Utah Governor Gary Herbert watches as Carbon County Commissioner John Jones signs the programatic agreement that will set up parameters for preserving archaic and historical sites in Nine Mile Canyon. The document has been years in the making.
Carbon Commissioner John Jones talks with reporter after the signing in the Gold Room at the Utah State Capitol.
In one form or another, it has been coming for years, but, to many, it seemed the final agreement would never arrive.
And, even at that, some are not sure the agreement will solve the problems, but they are willing to give it a chance.
On Tuesday, officials from the federal government, state, Carbon County, conservation and environmental groups, tribal groups and the Bill Barrett Corporation gathered at the state capitol building to sign a pact that describes how the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and Bill Barrett Corporation will protect archaeological remnants of ancient peoples in Nine Mile Canyon, as full field gas development takes place around Nine Mile Canyon in the next few years.
The so-called programmatic agreement says, basically, that dust must be controlled within a certain range range and that any other kinds of damage to artifact areas, including those with rock art that were put there by Fremont, as well as archaic peoples, will be mitigated with various controls.
While the pact ended more than a year of negotiations, the controversy dates back much farther than that, because the controversy began the minute Bill Barrett Corporation moved into the area early in the last decade. Since then, the concerns of historians, archaeologists and other conservation groups have been featured in the news with increasing frequency.
The agreement will be part of the BLM's final decision on environmental impacts of the gas industry in the area. That decision still needs to be released. But, still, the new agreement is a singular agreement, which stands alone, without any other supporting determinations. Such agreements have been used in various areas across the country, often in relation to federal and state transportation projects. Once signed, they are often enforced by the federal courts if parties involved do not live up to a particular stipulation within the agreement.
Governor Gary Herbert was one of the signatories. He said he was proud of the fact that the parties could come together.
"I appreciate the efforts of so many people who stepped forward," said Herbert. "Thanks to everyone for being reasonable and rational."
But it always hasn't been so. In fact, before the formation of the Nine Mile Road Committee, at times it seemed as if a cold war existed between many parties involved with environmentalists and conservationists on one side and Bill Barrett Corporation and local governments on the other. And, while both sides felt the BLM was playing with the ball on both ends of the court, the federal agencies were often in the middle. Conservationists claimed that the BLM wasn't doing enough to protect the Tavaputs Plateau, while those wanting development thought the agency was doing everything it could to make life miserable for economic development plans. On Tuesday, however, healing regarding the battle appeared, at least on the surface. Everyone was pretty much smiles, albeit some reserved ones.
"We all had to give up some of what we wanted," said Jerry Spangler of the Colorado Plateau Archaeology Alliance, regarding the signing of the agreement. .
Pam Miller, president of the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition said that she thought the agreement was a real step forward, but a first step that they will continue to evaluate as events in the canyon progress.
"It's been a great effort and a great discussion getting things out in the open," she said, on Wednesday. "Now it's up to the signatories to carry out the agreement. We have good faith that everyone will do what they say they will."
As far as Carbon County Commissioner John Jones, who signed the agreement for the county, is concerned, the agreement is a real step forward.
"This gives us a structure for solving problems, rather than always looking at going to court to battle it out," he said, on Wednesday morning. "I think this is a real move forward."
Bill Barrett Corporation vice president Duane Zavadil said, during the ceremony, that the agreement is unprecedented. That's because agreements between energy companies and environmental groups have not been very numerous in the past.
The agreement was signed by a number of groups that have interest in the canyon or have taken on issues regarding the canyon over the years.
The battles that were fought in the past over the preservation of the canyon have, in some ways, been epic in the local area. Many individuals over the years have watched and recorded the goings-on in the area as it pertains to industrial operations. Many solutions have been offered including an alternate road route that could be built to just cross through the canyon rather than travel through it, but that option was rejected by both industry and by the county for reasons of safety and even preservation of those areas where the new route would travel.
While the agreement addresses a number of issues, dust that some see as damaging to rock art panels is the focus. Simply put, preservationists say that the dust from industrial traffic is damaging the rock art. They add that even some of the dust suppressants that have been used in the past have disintegrated and have added to the problem. In the last couple of years, new suppressants have been tested and some of those are now in use with reportedly good results.
How it all proceeds only time will tell.
"We (The Nine Mile Coalition) will be the watchers," concluded Miller.