The Bush administration is not dancing with glee about a Utah proposal to build a national theater for ballet, music and opera outdoors near Moab amid national park scenery.
In fact, it opposed the idea so thoroughly in a Senate hearing Wednesday that it even complained that Utah members of Congress pushing for the Kokopelli National Outdoor Theatre misspelled the name of the mythical Hopi flute player after whom it is named."We note the spelling in the bill of `Kokapelli.' The more usual spelling is `Kokopelli,' " said Michael Penfold, assistant director of land and renewable resources for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
He also outlined larger reasons why the administration opposes the theater, which is proposed to cost $6 million in federal funding matched by $3.3 million from state and local money.
"Despite the natural beauty of the area, federal operation and maintenance of a performing arts center is not appropriate, particularly at a time of heightened concern over the federal deficit," Penfold said.
The BLM operates no other such theaters. However, the National Park Service - which, like the BLM, is part of the Interior Department - operates the outdoor/
indoor Wolf Trap Farm theater in the Washington suburbs of Virginia.
Penfold said the administration also wants to ensure the proposed theater would not interfere with mountain bike trails, mining, sightseeing and other activities in the slick-rock area around Moab and that the theater could support itself and not depend on federal subsidies.
"(The bill) proposes an inappropriate role for BLM, is not based on a comprehensive study and proposes insufficient non-federal assistance to make the theater self-supporting," Penfold told the Senate Energy Subcommittee on Public Lands, National Parks and Forests.
Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, the Senate sponsor of the Kokopelli bill, said BLM officials had earlier supported the idea, and he blamed the administration's apparent flip-flop on the "bean counters" at the budget-overseer Office of Management and Budget.
"The bean counters don't understand anything but the bottom line," Garn complained. "OMB strikes again - for the second time in a week."
The other time it struck was when the administration announced it was opposed to a Utah delegation bill to complete the long-delayed Central Utah Project by raising the amount of federal debt allowed for it. The administration complained it cost too much.
Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, who is pushing similar Kokopelli legislation in the House, also said the administration should look beyond just the cost of the theater.
"The Kokopelli National Outdoor Theatre at the appropriate scale would be a boon to environment, the economy and the arts," he said.
Geoffrey Panos, director of the University of Utah Fine Arts Center in Moab, also argued that while the administration is concerned that the theater might hurt other activities around Moab, the theater would actually help.
He said the preferred site for the theater is "adjacent to the trailhead for the internationally regarded Moab slick rock and the Kokopelli mountain bike trails. The adjacency allows for sharing of the existing support infrastructure and aids in the management of both facilities."
He added that a theater would draw more people to the area and allow them to enjoy art amid vistas of the Arches and Canyonlands areas - resulting in a "rare blending of art and nature (that) will create a valuable cultural resource of national significance."
Owens said it is too late in the current session of Congress to expect any further action on the issue. He said he and Garn will likely reintroduce their bills next year "with changes developed through public and (federal) agency participation."