The current relationship between environmentalists, multiple use proponents, the business community and government officials was on display last Tuesday as the public was invited to review and give comment concerning a proposed road improvement and chip seal project in Nine Mile Canyon. The open, informal meeting at the Carbon County Events Center provided anyone with an interest free access to Bureau of Land Management Engineers and project planners. While the meeting was congenial in nature, differing opinions concerning the best way to "improve the canyon" kept groups within the room separated by line long ago drawn in the Nine Mile sand.
According to contracted engineers on hand, the project's scope includes improvements starting at the end of current paved road near Soldier Creek Mine, extending through the main Nine Mile Canyon towards Cottonwood Canyon. The total project length totals just over 36 miles, 32 in the main canyon. The project, however, will spread out to include work in Gate, Cottonwood and Harmon canyon areas.
"There has been two steps concerning the environmental side of this," said Engineer Gavin McMullin of Jones and DeMille Engineering. "The first part was the environmental impact statement that dealt with the West Tavaputs Plateau full field development and part of that discussion brought about this project. Some of this issues brought up included the dust issue in the main Nine Mile Canyon."
Dust control in and around Nine Mile Canyon has been a hotly debated issue since oil and gas exploration significantly increased traffic in the Tavaputs starting in 1994.
Over 36 miles, the BLM funded by $5 million state, $5 federal and $10 million Bill Barrett Corporation dollars, will conduct a wide range of improvement.
"For that 36 mile stretch there will be some earth work activities to fix some parts of the road, however this is not a full structural reconstruction," the bureau said. "Improvement of drainage features will be a large part of the project because of the manner in which erosion and drainage features add to the dust problems in Nine Mile. Improving the road, moving it upward out of its current incised nature will significantly improve dust issues, moving material across the road instead of onto the road."
While structural and drainage issues will be conducted as an added preventative measure, the double chip seal planned for the road's surface will provide a somewhat permanent fix for dust issues.
"Speaking for Carbon County, most of the people we have talked to feel pretty good about this project," said Carbon County Public Lands and Access Director Rex Sacco. "They can see the benefits of doing the project for the cultural as well as for the vegetation out there. We have had farmers out their tell us that they had never put their crops up out there without dust in it, until we started doing some dust treatment on the road. This will just improve on that."
While most within the room did seem to agree with Sacco's conclusion, one of the legal ramifications of the meeting has to do with compliance to the National Environmental Policy Act. NEPA requires the preparation of detailed Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) when projects requiring federal action are determined to have potential for significant impacts to historic, cultural, or natural aspects of our national heritage. Therefore, all federal agencies have developed processes for conducting environmental impact analysis. NEPA sets forth a framework for how government agencies and project proponents conduct environmental reviews, although how those procedures are carried out varies from agency to agency. Generally, the NEPA process occurs in a number of well-defined stages:
* Define purpose and need;
Analyze reasonable alternatives;
* Prepare a draft EIS;
Public comment on Draft EIS;
* Prepare a final EIS
* Record of Decision
The process can take as little as a year and a half, but some projects can take five years or longer. While this process seems lengthy and full of jargon, it is a process most in the Castle Valley are aware of, if not completely familiar with. Due to the many project in Nine Mile Canyon as well as last year's Gooseberry Drainage meetings, talk of a "draft EIS" is becoming a common discussion in the Castle Country.
"These informal scoping meetings provide a real opportunity for the whole public to participate in the NEPA process and have the opportunity to comment and have real suggestions on the way this project goes," said Sacco. "Hopefully we have covered all of our bases and everybody will just be happy with the project."
Happiness with the project can be a subjective statement depending on a group's particular interest in the canyon.
"From what I see this seems like a positive project," said Deanne Mathews, Nine Mile Coalition chair. "Definitely a step in the right direction."
After talking to several groups at the meeting, there did seem to be a consensus of approval concerning the project. From the Nile Mile Coalition to the Bill Barrett Corporation and all the government officials in-between a often repeated comment was, "We want it done, we just want it done right."