Grand County Council chairman Lynn Jackson and council member Jim Nyland met last month with officials from Uintah and Duchesne counties, and they discussed the idea of studying an alternate “enhanced transportation corridor” through Hay Canyon in the Book Cliffs.
“Probably a key thing we decided … is we want them to also look at Hay Canyon,” Jackson told the Grand County Council on May 19.
All three counties are moving forward with studies that could determine whether it’s feasible to build a new paved road and pipeline between the Uintah Basin and northern Grand County.
According to Jackson, the studies will come at no cost to Grand County or its taxpayers.
“We’re not putting anything into this,” he said during a May 30 county council workshop.
A three-member county council study committee, which includes Jackson and Nyland, previously came up with recommendations to create a congressionally-designated corridor through Sego Canyon. But those proposals upset conservationists and environmental groups, who warned that they could not support Rep. Rob Bishop’s much-broader public lands bill if it includes the Sego Canyon idea.
In response to the public outcry that followed, Jackson said he and Nyland decided to investigate a second potential corridor through the Book Cliffs.
“We’re going to ask [about] this broad array of economic data, and we’re going to look at both Hay Canyon and Sego,” Jackson said.
It’s not the first time that the idea for an eastern route through the Book Cliffs has come up. As recently as 2007, the Uintah County Commission sought Grand County’s support for a new highway through Hay Canyon.
Right now, a well-maintained class B Grand County road runs through the area north of Interstate 70 and west of the Utah-Colorado state line.
“This road is pretty highly upgraded right now, and heavily used by the oil industry,” Jackson said.
Be that as it may, some county residents have said they oppose any new route through the Book Cliffs that could hasten the development of tar sands and oil shale in the largely pristine area. They fear that proposals from U.S. Oil Sands, Red Leaf Resources and other companies would intensify global climate change.
Speaking at an April 23 public meeting on the study committee’s ideas, Castle Valley resident Jake Burnett said he fears it would be “game over” for the human race if eastern Utah’s tar sands are developed.
The Sego Canyon corridor has come under fire for other reasons, as well.
At the same April 23 meeting, local residents Sarah Fields and Logan Hansen warned that an expanded route through the area could harm ancient petroglyphs and pictographs in the area.
Jackson, however, has repeatedly said that the county council is not even close to making any decisions about new road construction through the Book Cliffs.
According to Jackson, any recommendations that the council might come up with would simply identify the two sites as potential corridors. The hope, he said, is that Congress will approve proposed legislation transferring ownership of the land to Grand County, although there’s no guarantee that will happen.
“These corridors are placeholders. That’s all they are,” Jackson said.
In the meantime, researchers will still have to determine if it makes sense to build a paved road or other infrastructure through either corridor, Jackson said.
“We’re nine or 10 months from having those answers. I don’t think this legislation is going to happen by then,” Jackson said. “I think we can get this study done before they actually put anything in front of Congress.”
By proposing the Sego Canyon idea ahead of any work on the transportation feasibility studies, Grand County Council vice chairwoman Elizabeth Tubbs said she believes the council committee “put the cart before the horse.”
Speaking at the county council’s May 16 workshop, Tubbs called the proposed Sego Canyon corridor a potential stumbling block to Bishop’s public lands initiative. Tubbs is also concerned about a second study committee recommendation that would limit a president’s Antiquities Act powers to set aside new national monuments in Grand County.
“I think that those are things that are really divisive … and I have a problem with that,” Tubbs said. “Those are big enough issues that I would actually – and I know we don’t have enough time for it – but we should go to a referendum.”