|Carbon Commissioner Steve Burge and Bill Barret Corporation consultant Bill Griffith participate in a tour through Nine Mile Canyon last Saturday. Twenty state and county representatives gathered to discuss how agriculture, recreation, gas development and tourism can co-exist in the canyon.|
Controversy has plagued Nine Mile Canyon the last few months as gas developers stepped up the companies' intentions for increased drilling.
What has surfaced are stakeholders' concerns about the future of Nine Mile Canyon.
Last Saturday, people representing numerous agencies and companies gathered in the canyon to observe the sites, drive the roads and discuss the differences and concerns.
College of Eastern Utah president Ryan Thomas referred to gathering as "neighborhoods coming together."
Organized by Carbon Commissioner Steve Burge and county tourism executive Kathy Hanna-Smith, 20 interested parties were present at the gathering.
A lot is at stake in Nine Mile Canyon and, because of personal and agency concerns, emotions have flared. But Saturday took the groups away from the negotiating table and brought the parties into the field.
One agency not present was the United States Bureau of Land Management. The BLM is playing a large part in the permitting process of the development in the canyon.
Besides county government and tourism, other players meeting included the Nine Mile Coalition, Bill Barrett Corporation, Utah School and Institutional Trust Land Administration, archeological groups, the college, CEU museum and private citizens.
Saturday was a typical fall or early winter day in Nine Mile Canyon. Roads were muddy, with a cold wind blowing snow from the southwest. Longhorn cattle grazed along the roadsides and a few four-wheelers were exploring the area. Several gas exploration vehicles headed to a site, while a family observed the rock art and local ranchers loading cattle from corrals.
Addressing the group, Burge pointed to the activities and referred several times to the fact that Nine Mile is a multiple-use canyon.
The Carbon commissioner said the purpose of the gathering was to make sure "each hand knows what the other one is doing."
Stops during the day included Rassmussen Cave, the famous rock art hunting scene on Cottonwood Canyon, Nine Mile Bunk and Breakfast and two-day use areas where restrooms have been added.
Commissioner Burge lead the discussion and gave everyone opportunities to talk and share their concern or recommendation in developing and preserving the canyon.
Thomas expressed gratitude for including the college as a part of the group.
"Just as the college has a mission to come together to build educational programs so do we today have an obligation to build neighborhoods that work together," Thomas said. "We have a strong commitment to preserve this area,"
CEU's mission lies in the development and preservation of archaeology as well as educating students. Last year the college provided some 14,000 hours of community service.
"We could easily get people to assist in developing these areas," pointed out Thomas.
A sub-committee designed for the purpose of coordinating efforts was discussed. Thomas and Steve Tanner agreed to co-chair the sub-committee.
"Nine Mile Canyon, with the assistance of Bill Barrett Corporation, proved industry and preservationists could co-exist together to create a partnership to protect and preserve this vast archaeological wonder," commented Tanner, at a recent symposium.
The large group will meet quarterly but a smaller executive group, with seven members, will be formed to meet regularly to monitor the steps and keep everyone updated.
The next meeting is being scheduled for the first week of December at CEU.
An important element in the discussion is the Nine Mile Coalition. Several members were present Saturday and pointed out the historical significance of the panels and the large amount of work that has been done the past few years constructing rest areas.
Pam Miller told the group that the project is divided into three phases and the next phase includes the construction. She said she believes that "Bill Barrett's plan could make a huge improvement," referencing the discussion of a trail from the rest area to the actual site, the signage and a protection fence to keep the viewers from further damaging the fragile site.
The Rassmussen Cave sits on land which belongs to Barrett, across the canyon from the new compressor station that is being assembled. Barrett purchased the 16-acre parcel of land from author Lee Nelson.
Recently the county commission approved a conditional use permit so Barrett could proceed with construction of the compressor station.
"We would like to recognize what we have to preserve history and find a way to co-exist with industry," Burge summarized. "Barrett has been great about stepping up to the plate."
Bill Griffith, consultant with Barrett, talked about their commitment to the Rassmussen site and the company's intention to restore it and protect it.
"We are proud of our willingness to cleaning up sites along the way," he stated.
The group also looked closely at the Cottonwood Canyon site which houses one of the most touted rock art pieces in the entire canyon.
It was interesting to watch the wheels turning as geologists, historians, government leaders and engineers brainstormed on site possible modifications to the area. The air was filled with such comments as "we could move the road over here, use these rocks to block and protect the art, put the sign here, and create an area here as a school bus turnaround."
Many agreed that this kind of dialogue does not usually happen sitting around tables.
An oversight committee was formed with the united effort to start improvements in the canyon.
"We will take unified action to make these improvements," Burge said.
Local rock art specialist Layne Miller gave an overview of the significance of the canyon, particularly the Rassmussen Cave area where three separate cultures have meshed with rock art ranging from 2000 years old to the most recent Ute Indian's art.
"It's all right here and represents many years of history," he explained. "This is a truly unique area."
Miller discussed removing the graffiti and said that three experts have been invited to look at the site and decide what the best methods are for removal.
"I commend Bill Barrett for their commitment," he concluded.