Four months ago, the Grand County Council presented a proposal to build an “energy transportation corridor” via Sego Canyon, through the Book Cliffs, to possible oil development sites in the northern tip of Grand County. The plan included the creation of a paved highway, for energy transportation and tourism, that would have linked Vernal, Utah with I-70 and other recreation destinations in southeast Utah. It also proposed a corridor for energy pipelines.
I drove the Sego Canyon road twice this summer and it was obvious that the construction of the kind of paved highway and pipeline right-of-way a project like this requires would be devastating. I cannot overstate how much destruction would occur if this project went forward. It would require the removal of every plant and tree, from one edge of the canyon floor to the other, for 20 miles, to accommodate the scale of the proposal.
Last month, Grand County Council Chair Lynn Jackson, who helped spearhead the Sego Canyon plan, suggested that the feasibility studies being performed for Grand and Uintah Counties broaden their focus. He wants to include another north-south route through the Book Cliffs—the Hay Canyon route. This was the same corridor promoted in the early 90s, which was vigorously opposed by many Grand County citizens.
“Areas of the proposed route underlain by the Douglas Creek Member of the Green River Formation are considered to have a potential for landsliding if large volumes of material are excavated and filled to form road grades.”18.104.22.168 Terrestrial Wildlife
“Adverse impacts to big game following completion of the highway would include increased traffic and human use resulting in disturbance and displacement…increased hunting pressure and harvest; increased poaching mortality; and increased mortality from vehicle-animal collisions.“Following construction, the proposed highway would increase disturbance in the bald eagle wintering areas..there is also the potential for bald eagle mortality die to increased motor vehicle collisions.
“Mule Deer mortality from motor vehicle collisions can be significant where highways cross important deer ranges…The Proposed Route bisects key big game ranges and migration routes.”
22.214.171.124 Threatened, Endangered, or Other Sensitive Plant Species
“Nine federally-listed candidate plant species would potentially be affected by construction along the Propose Route.”
“The Proposed Route could not be approved or constructed under the BLM’s Wilderness Management Guidelines because the quality of wilderness values in both WSAs would be reduced.”
126.96.36.199 Cultural Resources
“Adverse impacts to significant cultural resources may occur as result of several project-related activities.”
4.2.19 Irreversible/Irretrievable Commitment of Resources
“Construction of the proposed highway would involve the commitment of a range of natural, physical, human and fiscal resources that could result in the irreversible or irretrievable commitment of these resources. Irreversible is a term that describes the loss of future options. It applies primarily to the effects of use of nonrenewable resources such as cultural or paleontological resources, or to those factors, such as soil productivity, that are renewable only over long periods of time. Irretrievable is a term applied to the loss of production, harvest, or use of natural resources…The disturbance of cultural and paleontological resources would be an irreversible and irretrievable loss.
These references reflect just a portion of the EIS. So today, as Grand and Uintah Counties (hopefully) move away from the Sego Canyon option, they must still consider that their alternative, Hay Canyon, at the scale they are proposing, was examined and studied more than two decades ago, at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the conclusion in 1992 was that the proposal was untenable.
I realize that the intention of the Grand County Council is to find new ways to generate revenues for its citizens. As the population of Grand County expands, so will demands for services. Tourism and the amenities economy will not generate the kinds of revenues required to satisfy its citizens’ needs, especially as their demand for services keeps growing. Even former Councilman Chris Baird (now running again), agrees that tourism can’t generate the kind of revenues needed to sustain its population. In a long email conversation with Baird in August 2012 about tourism, he said, “You make it sound like the recreation industry in Moab is some kind of unstoppable juggernaut. However, it just barely keeps people alive, and has facilitated a 1% growth rate. Grand County is the 4th slowest growing county in Utah.”
With that kind of understanding, even from one of its most aggressively anti-energy politicians, Grand County must either submit to more energy development, just to pay its ever-expanding bills, or learn to live with less. Grand County’s budget last year topped $12 million. In 2013, seven of the top ten taxpayers were tied to energy or the transportation of energy. Their combined contribution to the tax base exceeded $2.7 million—almost a fourth of total tax revenues. If environmentalists and progressives in Grand County want to oppose energy development in their home county, they should consider ways to downsize their expectations for the community. For years, I’ve talked about the issue of “production vs consumption.” I cannot offer a better example than the conflicted and sometimes hypocritical values you see here.