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SALT LAKE CITY — A new bill set to be discussed this upcoming legislative session would allow local governments to, once again, use eminent domain to help carve out trails in Utah.
Eminent domain, the right of the government to take over a piece of land as long as the property owner is compensated, had been used for this reason in the past. However, that option was removed through a bill passed in 2008. The current law states that eminent domain can’t be used for trails.
HB133, filed by Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City, explores reversing that decision for a “regionally significant trail system,” which is defined as a trail that goes through multiple municipalities or counties. The Bonneville Shoreline Trail, Jordan River Parkway, and the Denver and Rio Grande Western Rail Trail are examples of this.
It calls for using eminent domain to allow for creating a trail that’s at least 3 feet in width and could be used for walking, jogging, biking, cross-country skiing, horseback riding or even motorized scooters.
While seeking a reversal of the ban, Winder said he still believes the process of eminent domain should only be used in “extreme situations” where there aren’t any other options. Only the governments with jurisdiction regarding the trail could authorize using eminent domain.
“If someone’s building a 100-mile trail system, we don’t want 100 feet in the middle to snarl the whole project,” he explained.
Should the bill pass, it may play a factor in future plans to expand trails adjacent to the Jordan River. Right now, there are plans to add an extension where a trail exists on both sides of the river between state Route 201 and 4800 South in Salt Lake County.
“We’ve had some incredible success, over the past couple of years, with making improvements along the Jordan River — with great plans to continue,” Winder said. “We’re looking at properties on the Jordan River for trail expansion, and we’re purchasing the bare minimum as possible so they (property owners) can have as much of their land to enjoy, but so the trail can punch through.”
Here are a few other bills with ties to Utah’s outdoors that will be brought up during Utah’s 2020 legislative session:
HB26: Jordan River Recreation Area Funding Management
Winder is also sponsoring a bill that would have the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands manage money related to the Jordan River Recreation Area, giving control of the area to a central agency between the various cities that the river runs through.
“The state Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands has been a very competent partner in working with the Jordan River Commission and the cities along the river, so that would make the state agency that makes the most sense to continue to work in this area,” Winder explained.
The bill would also make the funds nonlapsing, which would allow the Jordan River Commission to roll money left over at the end of a year to the following year. It received a 13-0 vote in favor by the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee during a fall meeting. Sen. Wayne Harper, R-Taylorsville, is listed as its floor sponsor.
HB125: Division of Wildlife Resources amendments
Another bill that will be debated this year would direct the head of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources to take “immediate action under certain circumstances” if big game herd populations fall under the number sought by the state biologists.
The bill, HB125, is sponsored by Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield. In it, the bill states “the director shall take immediate action to reduce the number of predators within each management unit where the big game population is under the established herd size objective for that management unit.”
It defines predators as cougars, bears, coyotes or bobcats and big game as mule deer, elk, bighorn sheep, moose, mountain goats and bison. The director would still have to manage wolves under federal law.
Actions may include increasing tags or permits for predators until the herd size is back to the state objective, as well as professional trapping by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wildlife Services or other measures.
The division issued an “emergency” increase of 117 cougar harvest objectives in 11 areas across Utah last week amid a decline in deer populations in some pockets of the state. Earlier this month, the Utah Wildlife Board also approved new bear permits for the Beaver, Book Cliffs, Chalk Creek and Plateau Boulder regions, which were also issued, in part, to combat deer population declines in those areas.
2 resolutions for new state monuments
Senate Concurrent Resolution 1, filed by Sen. Scott Sandall, R-Tremonton, seeks to recognize Danger Cave in Tooele County as a state monument. The resolution also calls to add Jukebox Cave under the umbrella of what would be Danger Cave State Monument.
In it, Sandall said the area is a site that has been occupied for more than 11,000 years. Jukebox Cave served as a dance hall for troops who were stationed at Wendover, but also contains “artifacts showing occupation patterns similar to those of Danger Cave,” SCR001 says.
“Danger Cave is one of the most important and renowned archaeological sites in North America and was used to help set the timeline for Great Basin archaeology,” the resolution also states.
Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, is listed as the resolution’s floor sponsor.
Meanwhile, House Concurrent Resolution 2, filed by Rep. Susan Duckworth, D-Magna, seeks similar state preservation for Old Iron Town in Iron County. That resolution has the support of Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, who is listed as the bill’s floor sponsor.
While Old Iron Town is now mostly deserted, it was once an important spot in the 1860s and 1870s.
“Old Iron Town is symbolic of early Utah leadership's efforts to remain independent of the United States by developing industrial centers after the transcontinental railroad connected the country from coast to coast,” Duckworth’s resolution reads. “Old Iron Town was a thriving company community from 1868 to 1876, with several hundred residents, a school, a boarding house, a general store and a post office, in addition to the iconic conical charcoal kilns, foundry, and iron works; and Old Iron Town operations supplied ore to the region for industrial and community projects.”
Members of the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee favored both resolutions with 10-0 votes prior to the session beginning.