ST. GEORGE – A proposal to expand the Utah Test and Training Range could help land managers in Washington County acquire some of the 6,500 acres of school trust lands remaining in the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.
The Utah Test and Training Range is a military site west of the Wasatch Front and officials want to expand it.
The 2017 National Defense Authorization Act includes provisions for a massive land swap involving 86,000 acres of State Institutional Trust Land Administration property and 95,000 acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
The exchange would trade school trust land for BLM land in several Utah counties but SITLA will likely need to add some value to the deal. This would be rectified by transferring some SITLA land to the BLM. This trade could include several parcels within Washington County.
“If there is a valuation imbalance, we will work with BLM to identify specific lands and appraise them and convey them until the valuation imbalance is evened out,” said John Andrews, assistant director and chief legal counsel for the Utah Trust Lands Administration.
Estimates of the imbalance being between $10 million and $30 million are just a “really wild guess,” he said.
“No appraisals have been done yet, so it’s hard to tell. We’ll see when we get the appraisals done,” Andrews said.
The Defense Authorization Act authorizes appropriations for the Department of Defense and national security programs of the Department of Energy; a similar bill is passed every year and actual funding for military spending is passed separately.
The bill passed in one form by the U.S. House of Representatives last summer and another version was passed by the Senate at the same time.
The two versions were reconciled into one bill last week, Andrews said, and passed by the House Friday afternoon.
The Senate is expected to pass the bill next week. The expansion of the test range is a small part of the massive defense appropriations bill and is not considered controversial.
Once the bill is signed into law, the appraisal process would start and BLM would begin an environmental assessment.
It could take at least 18 months before the actual amount of the imbalance was determined; at that point, Andrews said, the land could be transferred.
The first priority in a land transfer would be a 165-acre parcel located south of SunRiver St. George and west of Interstate 15 near the Arizona border. The parcel is habitat for the endangered Holmgren milkvetch.
The second priority would be property in the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Andrews said.
“We’re trying to use this (exchange) to reduce the footprint within the (Red Cliffs Desert) Reserve,” Andrews said. “The BLM promised to buy those about 20 years ago and we made progress at first. But nothing has been happening recently.”
“So we would like to use this exchange and perhaps even future exchanges with BLM to whittle this down and get that issue taken care of for good,” Andrews said.
SITLA manages school trust lands to generate funds for the $2.2 billion Permanent School Fund, a perpetual endowment providing annual dividends to every K-12 public and charter school in Utah.
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