EVANSTON — The commissioners’ chambers were full last Tuesday afternoon during the Uinta County Commission meeting in Evanston. A huge crowd came to testify both for and against a request for commissioners to approve 10 county roads to be designated and included in the Southwest Wyoming Off-Road Trails (SWOT) program.
SWOT President Mark Tesoro, who is also publisher of the Uinta County Herald, began the discussion.
“Southwest Wyoming Off-road Trails, SWOT, is an economic development project,” Tesoro said. “We are asking you to designate an additional 10 county roads in order to meet our purpose of connecting historical sites and communities and helping to diversify the economy. In order to qualify for funding from State Parks, we need a certain number of miles of roads designated for SWOT.”
Tesoro said the group of volunteers had worked for nearly three years and have the support of State Parks, BLM, the Forest Service, county commissions, city councils, mayors, WYDOT and many legislators in the state. After HB13 was killed by a tie vote in committee during this year’s legislative session, the mayors of 12 towns in southwest Wyoming wrote to Gov. Mark Gordon, asking for his support with the legislation.
The letter was signed by the mayors of Evanston, Kemmerer, Mountain View, Lyman, LaBarge, Big Piney, Marbleton, Green River, Pinedale, Rock Springs, Superior and Bear River. Gordon’s response was positive and supportive.
“I have directed WYDOT and State Parks staff to stand at the ready as the Legislature continues their important work in this regard during the interim,” Gordon said in the letter.
When the Herald contacted Evanston Mayor Kent Williams, Pinedale Mayor Matt Murdoch and WYDOT Director Luke Reiner, all responded with strong support for SWOT and hopeful anticipation for the Legislature’s support.
A number of people attending last week’s commission meeting spoke in support of designating the roads for SWOT. Supporters included Uinta County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Rowdy Dean, Mountain View Mayor Brian Eyres, retired Forest Service district ranger Rick Schuler, Keyon Erik Amirkhizi with Powersport Rental, and others.
Many testified that SWOT members had covered all bases and concerns and that the grants that could be obtained from State Parks would help to cover the costs of managing the trails. Dean said he had done what the commission asked and checked with surrounding communities to see how many incidents were recorded to have taken place already on county roads in surrounding areas and all confirmed little to no incidents.
Amirkhizi admitted that his business would gain from rentals of side-by-sides but he said all of the local businesses would benefit as well. He added that with a proper program like SWOT, people will be responsible.
Lonetree rancher Joe Hickey had concerns about littering, the lack of restroom facilities and the impact on the environment and wildlife. He cited the dangers involved with bringing more people onto the county roads, saying the roads need to be culverted and graded in order to avoid accidents and provide dust control.
“I appreciate Joe’s involvement,” Tesoro responded. “We have worked hard to involve all of the stakeholders in looking at all of the possible issues.”
Todd Jones, a SWOT board member, said, “I know people who are already planning to build businesses along the trail,” Jones said. “Some ranchers have said they are considering developing campsites and chuck wagon meals. I’m asking you, commissioners, not to wait on approving this request so we can start putting up signage this summer while the weather is good.”
Evanston Police Chief Mike Vranish also expressed support for the project.
“It speaks volumes that all of these agencies are involved and in support of SWOT,” he said. “The SWOT committee isn’t looking at setting up businesses; we leave that to the local business owners. People are already coming here to ride when its 110 degrees in Utah. Right now, we don’t have a connection from the city to the county roads and hope that will change with the Legislature looking at the bill again.”
Commissioner Brent Hatch pointed out to the audience that the county would see no revenue directly from the trail system, as the county’s revenue comes from property taxes.
“However,” Tesoro said, “outdoor recreation is the No. 2 revenue-driver for the state. People want to get outdoors and recreate. All of the money that comes in from outdoor recreation does help the county in the long run.”
Sen. Wendy Schuler, R-Evanston, said, “The stickers that people have to purchase to register their ATVs will also help pay for facilities, management of the roads, law enforcement and signage. If the roads are designated, the signs will create self-policing and responsible actions.”
Hickey asked if he, other ranchers, SWOT and other interested parties could get together and come up with a plan on how to deal with the concerns he mentioned.
“There is an old saying, the only thing that scares a Wyoming cowboy is to see a Utahan with a U-Haul,” Hickey said, earning a laugh from the audience. “That’s a terrible saying, but we need a plan; we need to collaborate.”
Karen Henry and Carl Larson, both from Bridger Valley, agreed with Hickey and said a meeting was needed to come up with a plan on how to deal with the concerns.
Amirkhizi addressed the commissioners again and said, “Why have a meeting to plan a meeting? If all we do is talk about this, the funding that is there could go away.”
Commissioner Mark Anderson made a motion to approve all of the roads requested (181, 233, 254, 260, 261, 269, 283, 285 and 279) except for County Road 173 which, he said, needs more examination. The motion was unanimously approved by the commissioners, with nine roads being designated for SWOT.
Other business at the meeting consisted of contracts, subdivision requests, two resolutions, salary increases and scholarship awards.
High school seniors each receiving a $1,000 scholarship from the Uinta County Commission were Madyson Green, Evanston High School; Raven Heaton, Lyman High School; Indianna Covington, Mountain View High School. Alternate for a scholarship was awarded to Dane Catlin of Robertson.
Carl Larson of Lyman brought a memorandum of understanding between the Ashley National Forest and Uinta County for cooperation on a revised forest plan to the commissioners to approve and sign, which they did.
The commission approved Resolution 22-07, authorizing an increase of salaries for Uinta County elected officials beginning in 2023.
A Child Support Cooperative agreement between the District Court and the Department of Family Services, as requested by Third District Court Clerk Kerri Wright, was approved.
Uinta County Public Works Director Clay Baird asked the commission to approve an amendment to the contract with Ready Rocks for a 15% increase in costs due to the increase in diesel prices. Ready Rocks is responsible for operation and transfer of garbage from Bridger Valley to the landfill here in Evanston. The commission approved the contract amendment.
Baird also made a request concerning the agreement between Uinta County and the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), for the reclamation and improvements at the Fort Bridger landfill. He said it took time to work out some problems acquiring extra property from BLM in order to do the work, so the agreement needed to be extended to 2025. His request was approved.
The commission then approved a request from Frank Lamb with Wyoming Downs to include rodeos in pari-mutuel wagering.
County Planner Kent Williams addressed the commission next on two separate matters, both requiring a public hearing.
The first hearing involving a subdivision request from K Roberts asking that one large lot be subdivided into two lots received only one comment. Cloey Wall of Uinta Engineering & Surveying spoke in favor of the subdivision. There were no other public comments and the request was approved.
Next, Williams asked for a conditional use permit to be granted to GT Nix Construction to put in a gravel pit and crusher site at their location on 230 acres off Hwy 150. He explained that there were several neighbors and GT Nix would have to provide dust mitigation. Williams said Planning & Zoning had recommended approval.
He then opened a public hearing on the matter. There was one comment from Brian Robertson, a landowner near the site, who said he had no problems with the proposal. Williams closed the public hearing and the commission approved the conditional use permit.
Circuit Court Judge Greer was last on the agenda, requesting the commission approve the appointment of Amanda Kirby as a part-time magistrate for Uinta County. Greer said Kirby’s appointment would be at no cost to the county, but state statute requires the commission to approve an appointment, which commissioners did unanimously.