MOAB -- Lawmakers visiting this scenic community posed for pictures before breathtaking backdrops as they were briefed on efforts to balance a booming recreation and tourism business with energy development.
During a stop at Dead Horse Point State Park, members of the Grand County Council spoke to the Utah State Legislature about their efforts to balance oil drilling with tourism. But they were challenged by Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, who accused council members of trying to block oil projects near Arches National Park.
Members of the council challenged Noel's assertions in a tense back-and-forth.
"How do you justify saying that was next to the park?" Noel shouted, insisting the projects were miles from Arches.
The proposed sites have drawn protests in the past, because they are believed to be too close to the scenic views that Utah markets in its tourism portfolio. Noel also pointed out that much of the scenic views were in San Juan County, not Grand County, and said they deserve some of the economic benefits.
"They probably do," one council member replied.
"Damn right they do!" Noel fired back.
Noel told FOX 13 that he supports tourism, but he believes in Grand County it is out of balance with key energy needs facing the entire state.
"I’m totally 100 percent in favor of that. But I’m not in favor of saying this is the only bucket we’re going to protect," he said.
Grand County Councilman Chris Baird insisted they have been able to achieve a balance between energy development needs and tourism, although he noted it isn't easy. He noted that tourism is a massive driver of the local economy.
"Tourism accounts for probably more than 80 percent of the jobs in Grand County," Baird said.
Baird said the county's oil production is currently the highest it's ever been. Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Salt Lake City, said she believed that tourism was not being favored.
"I think there’s not an overemphasis on tourism, I think what they’re doing is really great," she said.
Lawmakers are wrapping up their two day bus tour with stops in Huntington and Fairview before returning to Salt Lake City. The trip has cost taxpayers about $70,000, but legislative leaders have said it is worth it to see first hand the needs facing rural Utah and the impact of their policy decisions.