S. Utah Officials Uproot Signs, Defy Federal Law

S. Utah Officials Uproot Signs, Defy Federal Law

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John Daley ReportingGovernor Mike Leavitt offered muted criticism today of a pair of local officials who federal authorities are investigating for deliberately violating federal law.

Kane County's Sheriff and one of its commissioners removed signs that banned off-road-vehicles in parts of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. This is the latest example of Southern Utah officials openly defying federal law. And in this case they appear to be daring federal officials to do something about it.

The Monument, created in 1996, has been a lightning rod for tensions between the counties and the national agencies, which govern federal public land. But the two sides have been working through contentious issues such as designation of routes for all-terrain-vehicles.

A week ago Kane County Sheriff Lamont Smith and Commissioner Mark Habbeshaw uprooted at least 31 signs with road numbers and symbols clearly stating that ATVs and motorcycles are off limits. The pair then took the signs and dropped them off at the Bureau of Land Management's monument headquarters in Kanab on August 13th. The county officials also ordered the BLM to remove additional signs on roads the county claims are under its jurisdiction.

Don Banks, BLM Spokesman: "We are disappointed because we think this is yet again another step backwards on an important issue. This is an issue that we knew was an issue with the county. We've been discussing it, working towards resolution. But we were surprised when they took down our signs and we don't think that's very helpful."

The Governor, who is in line to be the nation's top enforcer of environmental laws, expressed displeasure but stopped short of calling the actions extreme.

Gov. Mike Leavitt: "I wish they hadn't done that. I don't think that resolving these disputes by provocation is the best way."

The governor's office says the state will not defend or financially support Kane County in this case as it has done in other disputes with the federal government.

County Commissioner Mark Habbeshaw told Eyewitness News today: "It is our contention that these are legitimate county roads. It's our policy that ATV travel is allowed on all county roads. The issue is one of authority. Does the BLM have the authority to place travel restrictions on county roads or don't they?"

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