Is a paved transportation corridor through the Book Cliffs likely to connect Uintah and Grand Counties in the future?
Grand County Council Chairperson A. Lynn Jackson has sent a letter of inquiry to the Uintah County commission proposing a study of a Book Cliffs transportation route.
In a letter dated March 19, the council proposes a feasibility study to improve a transportation route from Thompson Springs on I-70 north to Uintah County.
Grand County is hoping to develop access to Anadarko Petroleum's Book Cliffs 96,000-acre block for oil and gas development on State Institutional Trust Lands Administration lands.
“Our primary county population center of Moab has limited access to this remote SITLA land due to terrain and a poorly developed and maintained transportation system” writes Jackson.
Anadarko's SITLA lease was approved last year and a joint agreement with Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, state and industry has deferred development of sensitive lands, while allowing development to continue.
The proposed route is an unimproved road through Sego Canyon which runs for roughly 15 miles before ending at the boundary of Northern Ute Tribe lands.
It dead ends about 7 or 8 miles shy of the county line where there are several dirt roads that extend south from Uintah County into Grand County.
Response from Uintah County commissioners was immediate and positive.
Commissioner Mike McKee said that this is not the first time as “20 years ago there was a proposed Book Cliffs Highway floated, but this is not the same thing,” he said.
Back then, the public outcry was largely negative, and more recently similar sentiments arose during the Seep Ridge Road paving project.
Still, McKee says this proposal is different because the route would be more than a hydrocarbon-highway.
He hopes the public will keep an open mind “as it could be a valuable travel and tourism road for Grand, Uintah and Daggett Counties.”
Commissioners from both counties, SITLA and the Uintah Transportation Special Services District will meet soon for face to face talks.
Traveling on paved roads in southern Uintah county “could cut mileage between Moab and Vernal from 230 miles to perhaps 160 miles,” wrote Jackson.
Both commissioners credit the Seven County Eastern Utah Economic Development Coalition as opening the door for cooperation on a possible transportation plan.
Jackson said that a Book Cliffs access has been debated for decades, but the genesis of this proposal comes from Rep Rob Bishop's HR 1459 public lands bill.
“We are possibly creating a very large wilderness area in the Book Cliffs, which would preclude any more access development, so before we do that, we should look at all our options,” said Jackson.
Jackson emphasized that no decision has been made to build a road rather these are just talks, at this point.
“We will meet next week with the commissioners and go from there,” he said.
Uintah and Duchense Counties completed an energy and transportation study of the Uintah Basin through the Utah Department of Transportation in Feb. 2013.
According to Muriel Xochimitl, UDOT spokesperson, “the study found that $35 billion in economic benefit over a 30-year projection period.”
That study did not include a possible southern travel route into Grand County, and will have to be amended to include the possibility.