Keith Rowley addresses the county commission.
Carbon County has not given up claims to four closed dirt roads in the West Tavaputs back-country. It will oppose any attempt to lock the gates on those roads forever.
That was the point-blank response of commissioners John Jones and Mike Milovich to questions posed by two out-of-county people who are upset by the closure. Locked gates were part of the Record of Decision that permitted Bill Barrett Corp. to develop its massive natural gas project. The closure restricts non-business-related travel during the drilling process, to the dismay of ATV riders in and out of the county.
"I feel that it's one more right that has been taken away," commented RoJean Rowley, mayor of Duchesne City. She said that the road closure will affect more than Carbon County. Jack Canyon, Horse Bench, Cedar Ridge and Jack Ridge roads were all accessible by motor vehicle from Duchesne or Uintah counties. "Once those roads are closed, they'll never be reopened," she added.
Keith Rowley, whose father helped build one of those roads, said he and others outside Carbon County were opposed to the closure. People who tour the back roads patronize Carbon County tourism businesses, but if the roads remain closed, that money will stop, he said.
The subject of the broader economic impact, the potential multimillion-dollar revenue stream into the county from mineral lease money and property taxes from the natural gas project, was not raised at this session. Earlier stories in the Sun Advocate have already detailed those projected economic effects, including improvements to Nine Mile Canyon road and others in the region expected to result from the development.
Commissioner Mike Milovich was sympathetic to the issues raised by the Rowleys, but explained that the roads can't be closed for more than two years at a time without a public hearing process. "None of it's palatable to any of us," he said. He added that the county did not protest the compromise between Barrett, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Bureau of Land Management because the vast natural gas drilling project would put people back to work.
"We're not abrogating any rights to the roads," Milovich said. Commissioner John Jones seconded that statement. "SUWA won't fight our RS-2477 rights," he said.
As for SUWA's political clout in Washington, D.C., Jones repeated the point he has made many times before: "We have to take some of the blame ourselves," he said of local people who oppose environmental restrictions. "We have sat back for 10 years and let them their way." Jones said land users have to be more vocal in expressing their opinions to elected and appointed officials at state and federal levels.