Dixie land bill won't pass in '06 By Suzanne Struglinski and Nancy Perkins Deseret Morning News WASHINGTON â€” Congress will not finish the controversial Washington County Growth and Conservation Act of 2006 this year, according to Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill. Congress is simply running out of time to take up new legislation and this does not fit with the handful of things it wants to accomplish before adjourning on Friday, he said. "I believe we had enough support in the Senate to pass this bill, but given the post-election environment in the House, it became clear they would not act on it, or many other pending bills, before they adjourn," Bennett said in a written statement Tuesday. "Washington County will continue to experience unprecedented growth, and it is unfortunate that efforts to help address this will be delayed." The bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, would sell 24,300 acres of public land in two phases, with most of the proceeds going to fund conservation projects within Washington County. The measure also would designate 219,725 acres as wilderness, including some in Zion National Park, preserve utility corridors and create an off-road trail system for vehicles, among other items. "Sen. Bennett and I have worked closely with the Utah delegation and stakeholders throughout Utah on this important bill. We remain committed to working on this legislation in the next Congress," said Matheson. Washington County officials have strongly supported the bill, while environmentalists and other opponents have said the bill favors development and amounts to a massive sell-off of federal public lands. Bennett said he will introduce the bill next year and is open to hearing new suggestions and ideas on what it can include. Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner said he was disappointed the lands bill would not be considered in Congress this year. "I'm sure it'll be introduced at some point next year," he said. "This delay wasn't zeroing in on our bill specifically. There were other, similar bills that were also delayed." Gardner said he was in a county commission meeting late Tuesday afternoon when he was pulled from the room and given the news. "I feel disappointed that some of those groups would come out so strong against the bill when they were involved in the process," Gardner said. "This will put us into the next Congress, but I'm sure we'll continue to go ahead with it." Justin Allegro, a legislative assistant with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said the bill may face tougher scrutiny with the Democrat-controlled Congress next year. "In all likelihood, the new Congress will make harder to pass bad wilderness bills that simply don't pass the test," Allegro said. Lin Alder, director of Citizens for Dixie's Future, said he was "elated" that the lands bill would be delayed until next year. "When we began this campaign in April, we honestly did not believe that the community would engage in the discussion," said Alder. Since then, 700 people have registered to receive e-mails from the group, which has pushed delaying the bill until a local planning effort called "Vision Dixie" is completed. "People in St. George in the past have simply chosen to follow along, regardless of the merits of a proposal," Alder said. "What we found is that in the last five years, enough people have moved in and enough old-timers have become concerned about sprawl to stand up and speak out. This is a major change."