Utah's congressional delegation has proposed the Washington County Growth and Conservation Act to sell up to 40 square miles of federal land, and use the proceeds to finance a $500 million water pipeline and other local projects. Similar bills may be introduced for counties in Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and New Mexico.
Washington County is home to fast-growing St. George and Zion National Park. Conservationists are critical of the Act. "As far as wilderness is concerned, this is a miserable piece of legislation," says Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. Janine Blaeloch, director of the Western Lands Project agrees: "People hoorah these projects on the local level, saying, 'We are going to do this for our people.' But small groups benefit, and those are developers, paving companies and golf course developers. Where federal land has been taken over for development, it ends up being used for second homes and high-end development."
Part of the federal land sale price would pay for a 66,000-acre tortoise preserve. The bill would establish a fund that would allow a major developer to realize a multimillion-dollar profit on land he owns in the tortoise preserve. Among the priority projects to be funded by the land auction would be buying out private landowners within the preserve boundaries.