It has been over 30 years since the inception of the idea of running a highway through the Book Cliffs to connect to I-70. The original talking point was that this highway was needed to support the gas and oil industry in the transport of fossil fuels out of the Uintah Basin; however, the professed need is ever-changing, with the most recent sales pitch being a tourism corridor to move people from Yellowstone, through Vernal to the Mighty Five in Southern Utah.
While there are many reasons that this highway is ill-suited for all Utah taxpayers, it is a particularly hard pill to swallow for those of us who live, work, hunt and fish in eastern Utah. We understand the difficulties that come with making a living in this remote part of the state, and we also understand the remarkable habitat that would be destroyed by a highway through the wilds of the Book Cliffs.
It is hard to make ends meet here, and a highway through the Book Cliffs will only make that more difficult. Small communities on the outskirts of the proposed highway alignments are poised to lose the tourism traffic that currently finds its way into their communities. Every lost fuel-up, overnight stay and meal is a hit to communities seeking to diversify economies and survive. This includes Colorado towns such as Dinosaur and Rangely located along State Highway 139, which passes through the Book Cliffs only 19 miles east of the proposed alignments. To the west in Utah, communities such as Roosevelt, Duchesne, Helper, Price and Green River all risk losing significant tax revenue from traffic bypassing their communities.
The Book Cliffs are also a tremendous resource for those of us that pursue upland birds and big game. I have spent almost 20 years moving through these areas hunting turkey and elk, but reveling in the occasion to hunt a once-in-a-lifetime bison and enjoying observing endless pronghorn, deer, chukar and bighorn. I have friends who have fished the small streams in this region, only to return home giggling with the delight of the scenery and the abundance of the catch. The big game of this region is struggling, though. Drought, coupled with expanding wild horse populations, is leading to stagnant elk and dwindling deer populations. A highway will just elevate these issues. Highways destroy quality habitat, are proven to increase poaching, introduce invasive weed species, lead to direct vehicular mortality and elevate the stressors on big game.
According to proponents of the project, the proposed highway is projected to cost taxpayers an estimated $150 million with an estimate of $1.37 million in yearly maintenance for its 35-mile length. While my personal experience with the area leads me to believe that these numbers are grossly underestimated, the takeaway is that this is a perpetually expensive project for Utah taxpayers and risks leaving other priority highway needs unfunded. Highway 6 is considered one of the riskiest rural drives in the country and Highway 191 is known as the “Devil’s Highway.” These critical routes desperately need attention and funding to make them safe for residents and tourists alike. Wasting public funds for a highway as unnecessary as one through the remote Book Cliffs is unacceptable in the face of projects that would save countless lives.
Many of us dream of one day living out the rest of our lives in the remote reaches of some beautiful landscape. Lee and Debbie Elmgreen found their slice of the pie tucked in the Book Cliffs at the mouths of Hay and East Canyons. They have a beautiful little spot, with mature cottonwood trees, a perennial stream, fields abundant in deer and elk, the surrounding cliffs dotted with chukar, and historical pictographs and petroglyphs. The preferred highway alignment would run approximately 300 feet from their front door, taking a portion of their private property via eminent domain and effectively taking everything else that makes their ranch special.
The application for this highway has been submitted to the Moab Bureau of Land Management, and the proponents have asked the agency to begin an environmental review process. Public comment is encouraged. If you question not only the validity of this highway and have concerns about its impacts, I strongly encourage you to consider submitting comments in opposition.
Avid Sportswomen & Grand County, Utah Commissioner
Public Comment Submission:
Moab Field Office
Bureau of Land Management
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