Paul Larmer responds

 

Paul Larmer responds:

Tom Power may be correct in his assertion that the employment numbers I used - and cited by county officials - are exaggerated. I should have been more careful before using them.

The economist who has worked on Kane County's economic plan, Gil Miller, says Power's information merits a closer look. But he cautions that it, too, may be skewed by the use of secondary sources. Miller says he is gathering new primary data from the county's citizens this summer that he hopes will shed more light on the county's economic condition. One thing he'll look at is distribution of wealth. A few wealthy individuals moving into the county could easily skew the average income figures for the county, he says.

But regardless of whether the numbers in my story are off, the reality of how people in Kane County feel about their community and the monument is not. The loss of 500 well-paying jobs is demoralizing to a community of 5,000 people, even if there is growth in other areas, and it can lead people to vent their frustration and anger against distant powers. In this case, the people vented against those who made the monument happen: the environmentalists and the Clinton administration.

I think this context is important for understanding how Kane County will deal with its future. But it's a context that Power makes only a passing attempt to understand. In his view, as long as the numbers look good overall, then everyone should be happy. Any community anger must be based not on economic factors, but rather on half-truths concocted by the anti-environmental backlash. Life isn't so simple.

If things are so great in this new economy, then why did southern Utah kick out Democratic Rep. Bill Orton and replace him with a conservative Republican? Why did hundreds of people wear black arm bands and rally at the local gymnasium following the monument's creation? Was it all just a frenzy whipped up by the wise-use movement?

The Andalex coal mine and the jobs it promised may have been no more than a pipe dream - certainly many knowledgeable people have said that mining Kaiparowits coal would have been prohibitively expensive - but its loss still wounded people. They will get over it at some point, of course, and perhaps many will come to appreciate the monument as a far-sighted act of wisdom. But that's a story for the future.

The story now is about communities painfully adjusting to a new reality. And what I discovered is that people are adjusting. The leaders of Kane County, some of whom are newcomers, use the rhetoric of the anti-environmental crowd when it suits them, and they have sometimes acted out their anger in destructive ways (bulldozing roads, for instance). But they are by no means helpless victims. From what I can tell, they are trying to plot a course for their future, and the monument was the kick in the pants that got them started. That's what my story showed.

As for Power's swipes at HCN for wanting to return to the good old days of extraction, they just plain miss the mark. We try to present everyone's viewpoint, whether it comes from the mouth of an environmentalist or a bulldozing county commissioner. That makes some people - even the HCN staff - uncomfortable at times. But we hope that, in the long run, it leads to a better understanding of the human communities which populate the West.

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