Commissioner voices opinion on Nine Mile
Of the many controversial sites in Carbon County, Nine Mile Canyon stands on its own. Rich in both culture and natural resources, for a number of years, the area has become a battleground among competing priorities. Recently, it has been the subject of increased attention.
Many locals would like to see the area developed further for energy interests, while others prefer a focus on cultural resources, namely Indian rock art and suppressing dust from the road. Problems have sprung up with various factions trying to seek sound compromises. While a few such compromises have been reached, arguments continue.
"The dust is having an adverse effect on the rock art. Damage has been done and the federal government has stepped back," said PamMiller president of the Nine Mile Coalition (NMC). The coalition is seeking better dust control in the canyon and has worked with the county and U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Land Management, (BLM), to find a compromise.
On Oct. 21, county commissioner Bill Krompel sent a letter to Bob Abbey, BLM director in Washington, D.C. The letter outlined the commissioner's goals for development of the West Tavaputs gas field near the canyon. According to Krompel, the letter is a response to many emails that environmental groups sent to the BLM. It is intended to outline the long-term benefits of the West Tavaputs project, as well as to promote the area for multiple use, along with highlighting measures to suppress dust and make the area more accessible.
Guidelines from the BLM for multiple use standards do exist, but, in practice, interpretations can differ.
"Multiple use does not require you to use every single resource at one time," said Ms. Miller. "The federal government can't destroy one resource for another."
In the commissioner's letter, he outlines several improvements made to the Nine Mile Road, including the county's cooperation with the Bill Barrett Corporation to provide safe access to the area.
"From 2006 to 2009, Carbon County expended over $3,000,000 to maintain and improve the Nine Mile Canyon Road including: (shortened) drainage, road, parking, radio coverage and planning."
However, Krompel's letter was not the only one sent in support to Mr. Abbey. Brent Gardner, Utah Association of Counties executive director sent a similar letter on Nov. 10 that read, "Roadblocks to continue public lands energy production are about to do Utah in. Rural jobs, local and state government budgets for education and other essential services, and rural and overall state economic wellbeing will all take hits if the West Tavaputs project is lost and Bill Barrett Corporation takes its annual hundreds of millions in investment, infrastructure, tax revenue and jobs to another state."
The letter asks why the BLM has not approved an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) to be conducted in the area. Gardner wants to see the study approved, so that the local economy can be stimulated.
"Is the current administration really interested in stimulating the economy? If so, then the BLM needs to finish up and approve the West Tavaputs project EIS," Gardner wrote.
On the other hand, controversy has stirred from the area's other interests and groups, which would like to see a greater conservation effort. The Nine Mile Coalition is one such group and has questioned how the development process has taken shape.
Ms. Miller indicated that the NMC does not wish to stop oil and gas development in the canyon, but rather wants the government to obey the laws that pertain to such undertakings. Developments in and around the canyon would bring jobs to the area. According to Krompel's letter, development would bring around 524 high-paying jobs to the area, which would, in turn, bring higher tax revenues over the long term.
Long- term jobs and tax revenues are something that both the commissioner and the NMC agree will happen with the development. However, the definition of long term is slightly different. Krompel does not give a time frame for how long area jobs will last. Ms. Miller would like to see the developments undertaken on a smaller scale from what is currently planned, (about 300,000,000 cubic feet/day over the next seven to ten years).
"It's (the gas) probably going to be gone in 30 years. I agree that we will get tax revenues, but in the end what will we have to show for it?" asked Ms. Miller "It's true that when gas developments happened in the past, workers have supported the economy, but most of them were from the Basin, and stayed in hotels or rented. Not many bought homes."
For the most part, the issue is very complicated. While progress has been made, arguments have also continued. Both sides (county and NMC) indicated that they want to continue to talk, rather than getting the courts involved.