BLM Approves Exploration Project near Nine Mile
After finding that there will be "no significant impact" on the environment, the United States Bureau of Land Management has approved Bill Barrett Cor-poration's proposed Stone Cabin three dimensional geophysical exploration project near Nine Mile Canyon.
The Price field office concluded that the project, to be conducted on the Tavaputs Plateau adjacent to the canyon, is consistent with the BLMs multiple-use mandate, indicated the federal agency.
The federal agency's mandate seeks to accommodate valid uses of the public lands while protecting resources.
The Price BLM field office also determined that the project will have no impact on the rock art and cultural resources for which the Nine Mile region is noted.
The BLM will take special precautions to ensure that any impacts within study areas will be so minimal as to preserve the suitability of the WSAs for congressional designation as permanent federal wilderness, continued the agency.
The BLM's decision to approve the geophysical exploration project, according to Price associate field manager Fred O'Ferrall, came after more than 22 months of review and the completion of an in-depth environmental assessment.
The analysis included the consideration of more than 24,000 comments from the public and the BLM's consultation with Native American tribes, land management agencies and local governments.
"Our analysis concludes that the proposed action, coupled with the required mitigation measures, will not have a significant impact on the environment," said O'Ferrall. "As a result, an environmental impact statement is not required. While there are some impacts associated with this type of project, I believe we've taken every reasonable and necessary precaution to protect the resources."
No testing will take place in archaeological-rich Nine Mile Canyon or near the well known "hunting scene" petroglyph panel in Cottonwood Canyon, noted the associate Price BLM field manager.
Within the project area, strict protocols, including monitoring by an archaeologist, will be followed to protect cultural resources.
No seismic tests will occur within 300 feet of known rock art sites or standing structures.
As an extra precaution, a seismic technician will use special equipment to monitor testing in sensitive areas to ensure that ground vibrations stay well below established protective thresholds, indicated the Price BLM field office.
To date, more than $150,000 has been spent on cultural resource inventories for the project.
Seismic testing for this project will use "shot hole" techniques as well as the large vibroseis trucks on existing roads in Cottonwood, Harmon, and Dry canyons, continued the federal agency.
Shot hole methodology involves drilling and detonating underground charges to produce seismic waves that are recorded at the surface.
Charges are placed in four-inch diameter shot holes, drilled to depths of approximately 60 feet located at 314 foot intervals along the source lines.
Portable drill equipment will be transported by truck, buggy vehicles fitted with over-sized tires or helicopter, depending on terrain or resource considerations.
Existing road and trail networks will be used as much as possible in the project area, most of which is open to off-road travel for recreational and other purposes, pointed out the Price BLM field office.
No bulldozing or heavy equipment will be used in the project and only heliportable drilling will be allowed in wilderness study areas. The type of drilling involves the transporting of equipment and crews to specific points by helicopter, which will limit any impacts in the affected WSAs to less than half an acre.
Upon completion of drilling, the individual sites will appear natural to the average visitor, noted the federal land management agency.
Surface impacts are primarily associated with driving buggy-mounted drills and support vehicles along 96 different source lines totaling 320 miles in length.
More than half of the source points will be reached by helicopter.
The BLM's analysis estimates a maximum of 206 acres of surface impacts dispersed over a project area of 90 square miles (57,000 acres) or less than 1 percent of the total project area.
The federal agency's review of the exploration project proposal included consultation with Native American tribes, the Utah Historic Preservation Office and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in accordance with federal requirements.
In an Aug. 13, 2003 memorandum, the Utah fish and wildlife field office concurred with the BLM's biological assessment.
The USFWS memorandum stated that the proposed action, with required mitigation, "may affect but is not likely to adversely affect" threatened and endangered species, including the Mexican spotted owl.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also concurred with the land management agency's determination that the project will not result in adverse modification or destruction of designated critical habitat.
In addition, a Feb. 17 letter to BLM from the advisory council on historic preservation withdrew the panel's objection to the bureau's finding of no adverse effect regarding the proposed exploration project.
We believe that BLM has made a reasonable and good faith effort to identify historic properties and has satisfied its responsibility to consult with Indian tribes that ascribe traditional religious and cultural significance to historic properties ..., indicated the letter from the advisory council on historic preservation.
The BLM's multiple-use mandate, as set forth in the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976, requires the bureau to balance its management of public land resources in a manner that best serves the American public, and energy production is an important part of that mandate, noted O'Farrell.
The Stone Cabin project decision reflects our agency's commitment to environmentally sound energy development, an approach that ensures protection of cultural resources and wilderness suitability while considering other important resources, such as recreation, watershed protection and wildlife habitat conservation, added the Price BLM field office representative.
Copies of the Stone Cabin project environmental assessment are available for review at the Price BLM field office, located at 125 South 600 West. The environmental assessment is also available for review at the Utah BLM office, 324 South State Street in Salt Lake City.
Copies of the assessment on compact disk and limited paper copies of the report can be obtained by contacting the Price office at 636-3600.
Electronic access to the environmental assessment is not currently available because of a court-ordered shutdown of most Internet service to the U.S. Department of the Interior, of which the BLM is part. The shutdown, ordered by the U.S. District Court on March 15, is related to litigation against the U.S. Interior Department for its management of Indian trust data or assets.
As a result of the court order, the Stone Cabin Environmental Assessment and other information related to this project are not available online.
When the court order is lifted and the BLM website is back on line, the Stone Cabin documents will be posted on the Price field office's website. Carbon County residents with Internet access may visit the site at http://www.ut.bim.gov/stonecabin.