Reaching an agreement on how to solve transportation, law enforcement and communication problems in Nine Mile Canyon has never been an easy task. Yet, as the Nine Mile Canyon Cooperative Board has worked together for the last couple of years, it appears negotiations are finally beginning to move along.
In a board meeting last week at the Carbon County Events Center, differing viewpoints about the future of the road project and associated activities still ringed the room at times. Brian Barton, of Jones and Demille Engineering, offered the centerpiece of the meeting - a presentation concerning the scope of work on the upcoming project.
At the beginning of his presentation, Barton said, "With this, we are trying to figure out the most feasible ways to manage the road and the canyon. The planning process is well under way, but it will take four or five months to finalize it."
Barton then launched a power point presentation to explain the planning process. He said it would include:
Gathering existing information that has been assembled over the decades while the county has been involved with the road in the canyon.
Aerial mapping on a 500-foot wide corridor in one mile of Gate Canyon, eight miles of Cottonwood Canyon, two miles in Harmon Canyon and 39 miles in Nine Mile Canyon.
Measuring traffic volumes.
Evaluating sub-grade conditions on current roads and evaluating past methods of upgrading them. In some areas, Nine Mile Canyon has a very soft sub-base that has caused problems for improvements over the years.
Documenting prescriptive and deeded right-of-way widths within the road study areas. Because this is a joint project of Carbon and Duchesne counties, both areas will be studied with the help of a title search company.
Identifying utility facilities and easements in the canyon.
Checking out all drainage and hydrological situations as they are currently connected with the road.
Using the proper professionals, all environmental and heritage considerations will be studied in connection with the roadway.
Identifying the existing maintenance concerns that the roads in the canyon area pose. This also includes safety considerations that must be evaluated.
The scope of work will also consider both short- term and long -term road improvement considerations. This will include evaluating costs for both kinds of improvements; dealing with NEPA requirements (National Environmental Protection Act), developing informational maps and finding proper and adequate sources of materials to use for improving the roads.
Barton also talked about developing an opacity-based performance standard for measuring dust, which many claim is damaging the rock art in the canyon. Of all the items in the scope of work, this issue generated the most discussion.
"Using opacity as a measurement of dust problems is not a good way to go," said Ivan White of the Nine Mile Coalition. "Most environmental engineers gave up using that standard years ago. There are better ways to measure the particles accurately."
Scott Hacking, of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, was also in attendance. He agreed that there could be better ways to measure dust in the air.
"If you accept that 20 percent opacity is good, just look at the problem that has been occurring at a gravel pit in St. George," said Hacking. "At 20 percent, the pit was still getting lots of complaints from residents. Opacity is not the way to measure these problems."
Barton said that the engineers are seeking a feasible and reasonable standard to consider.
"It's our goal to do that," he said.
After the scope of work was presented to the board, Carbon County Commissioner Bill Krompel said that a number of agreements and actions will be undertaken regarding the canyon before winter. The county will work on a law enforcement agreement for the canyon, as well as working to complete work on communications for the area. A past problem with protecting artifacts and rock art, as well as the safety of those in the canyon, has been limited communications between law enforcement, fire officials, road crews and ambulance services.
Krompel also said that the county also will continue to work on cleaning out culverts and other flood control mitigation until the weather changes.
"[During] these past few months, we have graveled six and a half miles of road up there and put a lot of culverts in as well," said Brad McCourt, road supervisor for Carbon County. "We also put in some rotomill by Mead's Ranch. The problem is that the more we improve the road, the faster people go [drive]."
Krompel said that the county will also continue to apply ammonium lignin sulfonate to the road as funding becomes available. For the past year, the "lig," as it is called, has been used as a dust suppressant in the canyon. Lig is a by-product of paper manufacturing, and is included in a class of dust suppressants that are organic and non-petroleum based.
"The Nine Mile Coalition is concerned about what will happen when the Bill Barrett project is over," said Nine Mile Coalition representative on the board, Pam Miller. She was referring to the gas exploration and development company that is working with the county on the road issues. "The road is the weak link in this situation. It is an important road for the county and we want more detail. We need a good grasp on what is going to happen with this road and we need it in writing."