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Dangers Associated with MK Tunnels Defined at Public Information Meeting

By PATSY STODDARD
Emery County Progress editor

A proposed project defining the future status of the MK tunnels on the San Rafael Swell remains under discussion by local, state and federal officials. Emery County officials and residents discussed the safety proposal with BLM and DOGM representatives at a public meeting at the Museum of the San Rafael on Aug. 29.

A public information meeting about the MK tunnels was conducted Aug. 29 at the Museum of the San Rafael in Castle Dale.

The purpose of the meeting was to gather public comment on a proposed project at the MK tunnels in the San Rafael Swell.

Public lands director Ray Petersen said most people attending the meeting were concerned about losing the visual effect the tunnels have on viewers.

But based on the governmental entities at the meeting, changes will be made to deal with the liability this tunnel complex presents.

The tunnels are the remnants of cold war testing in the San Rafael Swell. The structures have remained virtually untouched in the 58 years since the blasts creating the tunnels took place.

The United States Bureau of Land Management is the managing agency of the land on which the tunnels are located. The BLM contacted the Utah State Division of Oil, Gas and Mining to have the state's reclamation program draw up a proposal for the safe closure of the tunnels.

The BLM hopes the proposal will make the tunnels safe for the public while maintaining their historical importance.

The main tunnel portal will be closed at the entrance, states the proposal.

Emery County has requested a recessed entrance so people can look into the opening and see the tunnel.

According to state officials the other two tunnels will be backfilled to the top and the vertical drops will be eliminated. The surface indentations will remain.

An interpretive kiosk could be installed at the site of the tunnels explaining their use and how they came into existence, point out state officials.

Petersen said the proposal called for $5,000 to be set aside for interpretive kiosks. He recommended requesting more money so the county can adequately represent the activities in the area.

Petersen said the public lands council recommended that the commission endorse the MK tunnel proposal.

Petersen indicated that, if the proposal isn't accepted, he felt the BLM might bulldoze the entire area to eliminate the agency's liability at the sites.

Petersen said he hopes the BLM will install the interpretive kiosks and put a restroom in the area to make it more attractive to visitors.

The Emery commission determined that the county would draft a letter to the BLM supporting the proposal.

Emery Commissioner Ira Hatch said it is important to keep the history of the MK tunnel area as intact as possible.

Emery Commissioner Drew Sitterud said it was his understanding from the meetings with DOGM and the BLM that the ground work at the sites wouldn't start for two years.

Sitterud wanted the letter of support for the project to include the increased amount of funds for the interpretive panels.

Sitterud also wanted the county's letter of support to request that the closing at the big tunnel be placed back as far as possible to allow people to enter the structure safely.

Emery County resident Jim Peacock attended the public hearing and said he was involved in the construction of the tunnels. After the blast, he said workers were cleaning up the rock when a gully washer came through and swept one man away. The man drowned in the deluge.

DOGM representative Mark Mesch explained that the vertical openings will be covered with welded rebar grate. The horizontal openings will be recessed concrete walls. In the main tunnel, a steel gate will be installed. The three vertical openings will be covered with welded steel grates. The existing fencing will be replaced.

DOGM hopes to maintain the character of the area while eliminating the safety hazards. More public meetings will be scheduled in the future to address the issues involved in the process.





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