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Bill Barrett drilling on temporary hold, road building to accelerate

Nine Mile Canyon Road will be wearing a surface of chip seal and microsurfacing by year's end.

Sun Advocate associate editor

First the cloud: Bill Barrett Corp. is going to stop drilling for a while on the West Tavaputs field because of a soft market for natural gas.

Then the silver lining: With less heavy truck traffic because of the drilling halt and a mild winter, W. W. Clyde will be able to accelerate the improvement and surfacing of the remaining section of Nine Mile Canyon road.

Then the rain: With up to 11 road crews working in the canyon during construction, there will be inevitable delays and the areas where work is going on are not going to be easy for passenger cars to negotiate through the spring and summer months.

That was the word from the Nine Mile Road Cooperative Board Tuesday. The board, made up of officials from Carbon and Duchesne counties, and representatives from industry, the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition and Bureau of Land Management, gets together every few months to assess the situation on the 36-mile long project.

Mike Angus, a superintendent with Bill Barrett, said his company is going to cease drilling operations because the price of natural gas is low and is not expected to rise any time soon. Earlier this month, the company issued a statement that it is curtailing natural gas drilling by $120 million and will focus more on petroleum development, which is more profitable now.

The company will still maintain its commitments on funding its half of the $21 million road project, and will continue to fund the archaeological protection efforts in the canyon.

Meanwhile, Brian Barton and Garrett McMullen of Jones & DeMille Engineering reported that a mild winter will allow the road contractor to get an early start on the springtime work. The frost is out of the ground and water tank trucks for dust suppression aren't experiencing freezing problems. In March and April, workers will be finishing up east of Harmon Canyon, installing concrete low water crossings and culverts.

Starting in April, earthwork will begin near Sheep Canyon and move westward. From May to September, the road crews will be working on grading, drainage and surfacing.

Plans now call for a single layer of chip seal to be topped off with a microsurfacing layer. This microsurfacing is a polymer modified asphalt emulsion that toughens the road and prevents tearing of the chip seal, the engineers explained.

There will be limited laying of concrete or asphalt where extra durability is required. Those areas include low water drainage spots, major intersections and cattle guard transitions.

Once the job is done in the fall, the improved road will be ready for tourists in passenger cars. But while the work is going on, sedans "are not a good idea," said the BLM's associate field office manager Julie Howard. She said her office is getting the word out that family cars are not recommended on the road this summer.

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