I’m writing in response to the reprint of Kane County’s press release published in the SUN last week, submitted by Kane County Attorney Rob Van Dyke.  

 What was said in the article was disturbing, mostly because the editorial seemed to be written in order to create a divide among our community. Even worse was that the editorial came out on the same day, and at the same time, as we were meeting with officials from the City of Kanab and Kane County. It’s very hard to be meeting with people to try to resolve our differences when, at the same time, statements are being made for the purpose of dividing us from the exact people we’re sitting across the table from. 

One of the most disturbing things in the article was the hint that there were misusing funds from the conduit bond. No bond proceeds have been used for land acquisition and we have provided the county evidence to support that fact. In addition, we can only apply for reimbursement after we spend money on a Sanctuary construction project, and after the expense reimbursement is reviewed by the bond trustee. In other words, there’s already someone reviewing everything we spend before we get any bond money. Finally, we’d already let the county know that we’re more than happy to provide additional information to support our construction expenses. I just don’t know how much more transparent we can be, which again, makes all this innuendo so concerning. 

As for anything to do with knowing about the deal, SITLA is a state agency and they have strict regulations about selling state lands. They’re required to send certified letters to the county and we’ve been told that they did that. They also published a notice of the pending sale asking if anyone claimed any easements or other rights on the land. Those were published in this newspaper on February 20, February 27 and March 5, 2020. SITLA also published a notice specifically asking for other offers to buy the land, which were also in this newspaper on March 19 and March 26, 2020. No one from the city or county raised any concerns or offered to buy the land. SITLA complied with every requirement, and the transaction was completely transparent. It is very hard to understand how the county only became “fully aware” of the purchase until April. It’s also hard to understand what “fully aware” means. If they knew there was a sale pending, or even a possible sale, or if some people knew and others didn’t, then the county knew.

This purchase is no threat to the water supply for the City of Kanab. There is a city well on the property, but the city owns a permanent right to access that well and a permanent right to access all the pipelines. The well itself is leased through 2032, and we have no intention of limiting the city’s access to the well before or after 2032. We have said this in every statement, public and private, about this issue.  

Best Friends did not want to buy this land, and we did it only to protect the Sanctuary from the incredible damage that would have resulted from the mine, as well as from the depletion of the aquifer that supplies us with water. If we could’ve just leased the land or purchased the mineral rights, we would’ve, but that’s not how SITLA works. It’s their obligation, which we completely understand and support, to use their lands to raise money for the Utah public schools. SITLA can cancel any mineral leases they enter into on 30 days’ notice if a better offer comes along. So if we had leased the land, it would’ve just been a matter of time until someone else came along wanting to mine the land, and we would’ve been right back at square one. So, we had no choice.

Of course, the benefit to Best Friends, Kanab and Kane County is that the land is now preserved and is not being mined, and the Red Knoll will be protected. Best Friends is currently in the process of discussing the water issues with the City of Kanab although, as I said, they have extensive legal rights which we absolutely respect. We’re also working with Kane County for the continued recreational use of the property. This is important to us. We know how special these lands are and we know what they mean to tourists and locals alike. We want to be good neighbors and good friends. I hike on the Red Knoll all the time, and our staff, and visitors and friends love going out there. We want to reach an agreement that satisfies as many of the needs of Best Friends and recreational users as possible. In truth, most of our needs are already in alignment.

So, on my behalf and on behalf of Best Friends’ staff, we just want to ask that we all have a kind and honest conversation about how to move forward. That we respect each other and live as friends and neighbors. We will not interfere with Kanab’s water system and we will continue to sit down with the county, respectfully and in good faith, and see how we can make the precious lands, as they are correctly described by Mr. Van Dyke, available for everyone to enjoy and admire.