|Conditions on the Nine Mile Canyon road continue to concern local government officials. Several sections of the roadway are narrow and have no shoulders or pull outs for vehicles. In other spots along the canyon byway, the dust creates difficult problems to handle and, in many places, the road base has disappeared.|
Although missing one estimate for a digital or aerial survey of the road through the canyon, the Nine Mile advisory committee decided last Thursday to go ahead and support the concept of the project.
"There have been basically two approaches that have been looked at for surveying the entire 70 miles of the road," said Steve Tanner, co-chair of the committee. "One is a standard aerial survey, the other is to use a special device that can be driven down the road by a vehicle and will perform the task digitally."
So far, the two estimates to handle the project have come in between $150,000 and $200,000. A third estimate has not been submitted, but officials expect its cost to be in a similar ballpark.
Tanner also noted that the estimates did not include the survey work that would need to be done on the corridor from the ground.
The impetus to do the survey came last fall when the committee met with officials from Carbon and Duchesne counties, the United States Bureau of Land Management, the Utah State Institutional Trust Lands Administration as well as other interested parties about what to do with the road in the canyon.
At present, the road is basically still the same as it was 70 years ago, with a few modern improvements done in the last few years.
However, the vehicle volume has increased recently and, more importantly, the kind of traffic on the road has changed.
Heavy industrial trucks from the gas and oil industry as well as logging trucks currently use the road. The situation tends to create problems not only in terms of possible accidents on sharp curves and blind corners, but also for the roads physical condition.
In some places, the heavy traffic has ground the gravel road down to fine dust the permeates everything it settles on.
The canyon has become a popular heritage tourist venue and many people from across the world visit Nine Mile to view the sites. Many of the visitors, when interviewed by officials, complain about the road and the condition of it.
"We recently did a tourism show in Sandy and a number of people inquired about Nine Mile Canyon," pointed out Kathy Smith, the director of the county's tourism agency. "Many who had been there before said how much they liked it, but they were also concerned about the condition of the road based on their past visits. It is a critical situation for tourism."
It had been suggested in prior meetings that the funding for the survey project could possibly come from the Carbon County Recreation and Transportation Special Service District (CCRTSSD).
"I think that this is a prime example of what that funding agency can do with the money that comes to it from mineral lease revenues," said Carbon County Commissioner Bill Krompel. "That is the kind of thing the agency was created for."
The CCRTSSD mineral lease royalties are paid by the state to the district. In the past 15 years the agency has often either spent money on building roads or helping with the financing of them. Most of those roads have to do with the coal industry, including Ridge Road, the Dugout Canyon Road and "C" Canyon Road.
The committee voted to send a letter to the county and the district asking for support for the survey project when the exact cost is determined.
Funding for the road project that is sure to follow any survey was also another topic of discussion. Krompel said that the county has made application for federal funds through Congressman Jim Matheson's (R-Utah) office. He said letters of support from different quarters would be helpful in securing the money requested.
"If we can get two to three million dollars from the Federal government for improvements along the road that would go a long way to solving some of the problems there," noted Krompel. "Of course with solving one problem we may create others. But I think putting in some turnouts, widening some sections and solving the problems where the dust becomes a hazard during the dry weather would be very helpful."
He also said that in a meeting with the BLM last year he was told that there would be a chance of getting some money from the agency for law enforcement in the canyon to help solve some of the speeding problems. But Patrick Gubbins, BLM Price field office director, said that it appears that money has evaporated.
"We took some severe cuts in our budget this last year," he stated. "I just don't think the money is there to do that."
Pam Miller of the College of Eastern Utah Prehistoric Museum wondered if industry could do more to help on the roads in the canyon, particularly with the dust problem.
"Isn't there some kind of stipulation the BLM can put on those businesses for reimbursement for improving those roads?" she asked.
Don Hamilton who represented Barrett at the meeting said that from the companies point of view they have already done a lot on the road to help out.
"There has even been thoughts about sending the oil and gas traffic another way out of the fields," he stated. "But now that road needs some major capital money to work on it. I think more will come from the company as the money starts to come in from the wells they are putting in."
Krompel pointed out that Barrett had already had to spend $2 million for an environmental impact statement on their wells and that even with that it has taken two years to get production going.
"They had to invest a lot of money in the area before they could even realize one dollar of profit," he indicated. "We have to remember that these gas companies are some of the biggest tax payers we have in the county and will continue to be so for years. In fact Conoco-Phillips is the biggest taxpayer and Anadarko is second."
Gubbins also pointed out that the gas leases have long been established and the kind of stipulations Miller suggested might be available could not be imposed at this point.