Bipartisan public lands act to fuel economy in rural Arizona

President Donald Trump has signed a huge public lands act that contains a number of projects to help economic development in Arizona’s remote areas including a new riverwalk in Bullhead City.

A majority of both U.S. houses approved the bipartisan legislation, 363-62. Arizona’s entire congressional delegation voted ‘yes.’

Not only does the act increase and preserve national parks and refuges, it’s also intended to boost economies in rural areas. The legislation resurrects an expired funding source that will expand opportunities for outdoor recreation, a top industry in Arizona. Consumers here spend about $21.2 billion a year on outdoor recreation, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

The legislation, the Natural Resources Management Act, is the largest public lands act passed in a decade. It creates five new national monuments, enlarges several national parks and adds 1.3 million acres of wilderness.

It also revives and makes permanent the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). Most residents in Arizona likely live near a park, trail, greenway or waterway funded with LWCF dollars. Each LWCF dollar invested in a community generates four times that amount in economic activity, according to the Department of the Interior.

Arizona recreation and industry opportunities

Arizona will benefit from a number of land swaps and exchanges, a water protection measure, and other projects in the legislation.

For Yavapai County Chairman Randy Garrison, passage of the act represents 12 years of work for the county to obtain 80 acres next to Windmill Park in Cornville.

“At the end of the day, it seems absolutely stupid that something so simple took 12 years to accomplish,” Garrison said. “But this little piece of land means a lot to the community to create benefits not only for Cornville but the entire Verde Valley and the state as well.”

The county is swapping isolated acreage for the prime piece of federal land that is nestled against the park and Oak Creek. With ownership, the county can now build a pedestrian and vehicle bridge over the creek. It will tie the community to major hiking trails like the Arizona Trail, Garrison said.

“The Verde Valley really relies heavily on environmental tourism and anytime that we can get the public closer to our waters, they’re going to understand the value of that resource and appreciate that resource,” he said.

Other measures include:

Bullhead City riverwalk Bullhead City plans to donate roughly 1,100 acres of land in the Black Mountain Range to the federal Bureau of Land Management to obtain 345 dusty acres of property along the Colorado River. The city plans to develop the property for parks, recreation and other projects.

La Paz County solar energy development Roughly 95 percent of the county is federally, tribally or state-owned, making it very difficult to attract industry, said County Supervisor D.L. Wilson. A land swap with the Bureau of Land Management will allow the county to purchase approximately 6,000 acres of federal land to attract solar industry. The land sits next to the I-10 freeway and transmission lines, making it a good location.

It will bring some jobs to the region, but more importantly it will provide much needed property taxes, Wilson said.

“This will be a significant revenue source for the county and hopefully relieves the tax burden on businesses and residences,” he said.

Protections for future water An act included in the bill, the Bureau of Reclamation Transparency Act, requires the Bureau to inventory assets and prioritize major repairs at its facilities. The bill is to help ensure future generations have access to an abundant supply of clean water and power.

Arizona’s entire congressional delegation worked to achieve passage of the legislation including Sens. Martha McSally and Kyrsten Sinema, and Reps. Paul Gosar, Ann Kirkpatrick, and Tom O’Halleran.

The lands bill expands the Public Lands Corps by many thousands of volunteers, which would have pleased the late Sen. John McCain, said McSally, who took over his seat.  

“The passage of this legislation is a tribute to Sen. McCain who inspired so many young Americans to celebrate their love of country through service,” McSally said.

One of the key architects of the lands bill, Arizona Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva, chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, said it represents “Congress at its best.”

“This bill represents Congress at its best and truly gives the American people something to be excited about,” Grijalva said when it passed. “It’s a massive win for the present and future of American conservation. Everyone from inner cities to suburbs to rural communities wins when we work together to preserve the outdoors.”

Victoria Harker

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