Residents of Helper and Scofield were joined by other Carbon County citizens and officials at an open forum coordinated by Utah Rep. Pat Painter.
As a state legislator for district 67, Painter represents western Carbon County and parts of Juab, Utah and Sanpete counties.
"I want to make sure I represent these folks," pointed out Painter after the June 28 town meeting in Helper.
The district 67 representative said the meeting helped him better understand the issues facing the residents of Helper and Scofield.
"I want to see Helper boom," he added.
Painter brought two state officials to the meeting, Utah Department of Natural Resources director Mike Styler and department of transportation director John Nord, executive director of the Utah.
Styler explained that his department oversees a number of divisions, including wildlife resources; water resources; oil gas and mining; forestry, fire and state lands; parks and recreation; water rights; and the Utah Geological Survey.
The two state officials fielded questions from local residents at the meeting.
Questions from the public included a variety of subjects, mostly relating to U.S. Highway 6 and the energy industry.
However, Styler and Nord took time to explain some of the broader issues facing their departments and projects they are working on.
Styler said one of the ways his department is improving state lands is by restoring natural habitat. About 125,000 acres statewide have been designated for restoration.
Restoration involves removing species that don't normally belong in the habitat, such as juniper and pinion pine.
By restoring the natural habitat, all land users benefit, said Styler.
Watersheds are improved because the natural species in the areas help retain water and soak it into the ground so it ends up in the aquifer, rather than running off or evaporating.
In addition, the plan helps protect sensitive species and provides better areas for wildlife and livestock.
"The economy that will profit the most will be rural Utah," said Styler.
Nord told attendees at the forum that the state is facing tremendous growth and Utah is the fifth-fasted growing state in the nation.
"Over the last decade, we have seen our population grow by 30 percent," said Nord. He added that travel has gone up 60 percent during the same period.
The UDOT director explained that the trend will likely continue, that travel will increase at twice the rate of population. One of the reasons behind that trend is that children of Utahns have a tendency to stay in the state. They raise their families here. That requires more jobs, more economic opportunities and more transportation.
In order to facilitate that growth, Nord explained that UDOT has four goals: first, to take care of what the state already has; second, to make the system work better; third, to improve safety; and fourth, to increase capacity. He emphasized that the order of those goals is important, and that his department works on the goals in that order.
He said the department has spent $100 million over the last 10 years on U.S. Highway 6, and that most of that has been spent on safety. Some of those improvements include widening the road, adding passing lanes and installing rumble strips.
On the subject of Highway 6, Helper residents were immediately concerned about the proposed construction of the interchange on North Main Street in Helper. The interchange is well on its way through the planning stages. The department will be accepting bids in August and choosing a contractor for the job in September.
The $15 million project is expected to last 15 months, with completion in late 2006 or early 2007.
Nord told those at the meeting that the interchange is a longterm fix to a longterm problem. At present, with traffic moving at a high rate of speed, the risk for a T-bone type crash is high, he explained. The interchange will allow traffic to move better through Helper, while still allowing residents access to both sides of their town.
"We think it's an opportunity to connect a community," said Nord. He explained that the interchange will give better access from one side of the highway to the other.
"We're committed to keeping traffic flowing," said Nord. However, traffic in Helper will be affected by construction. That interruption is unavoidable, he said.
Also on the subject of transportation, Carbon County Commissioner Mike Milovich asked why the state was spending $9 million on the south Moore cutoff. The cutoff is a road in Emery county that runs from Utah Highway 10 to Interstate 70. It is used by approximately 200 drivers daily. That is a small number compared to the number of drivers on Highways 10 or 6.
Nord said that the majority of funding for the south Moore cutoff is coming from federal funds. Congress earmarked $7 million for the project and the balance is being paid by the state. Utah has no other choice on where to spend the money.
However, Nord explained that his department is making an effort away from spending money on special projects like the south Moore cutoff. He believes that the money being used on the cutoff would be better spent on Highway 10.
He added that the legislature is working to change how projects are prioritized as well. The Centennial Highway Fund, a significant source of funding for highways within the state, specified the projects that would receive funding.
However, a new plan for funding will allocate an amount of money, and the transportation commission will control the allocation of funds based on the four goals of the department.
Rep. Brad King, who attended the meeting, added that the problem of funding has been caused in part because of a select group of legislators, mostly from urban areas, that have moved the focus of highway funding from safety to capacity.
Other topics of discussion included ATV traffic on state and public lands, bonding of energy companies for reclamation and changes in the energy industry related to tar sands and oil shale.