Paving the Burr Trail would increase on-road traffic by more than 13 times and encourage off-road-vehicle use that would damage vegetation and ruin archeological sites, according to a spokeswoman for a conservation group.

The paving would "increase the amount of traffic on the road 1,273 percent," Terri Martin, regional representative of the National Parks and Conservation Association, said Friday. "Use of the surround area by ORVs would increase dramatically, possibly scarring areas, trailing areas, seriously harming vegetation and possibly destroying archaeological sites."What's more, if the federal government doesn't conclude that a full-blown environmental impact statement is required on the Burr Trail project, the association may sue.

Martin made those comments in response to the release of a draft environmental assessment released this week by the Bureau of Land Management. The assessment was prepared by JBR Consultants Group, 1952 Fort Union Blvd., "for and on behalf of Garfield County," according to the title page.

Martin said the county's upgrading project should be considered as having the same impacts as paving the road, as Garfield County officials repeatedly said they would pave the route. The grading is only the first step for that, she said.

Martin said the draft assessment confirms environmental fears that the project would cause serious damage to the mostly wild desert area.

Under federal rules, if a project would create significant impacts, an environmental impact statement is required.

"BLM has an obligation to prepare a much more detailed environmental impact statement," she said. "At this point, we certainly hope we don't have to end up in court. I think BLM's obligation's pretty clear here. But we could end up back" in court.

Martin's group is one of several that sued unsuccessfully to block the county project.

Three possible alternatives are examined: to grade and improve the dirt road, without paving it, at a cost of about $3.5 million; to pave the road as a "national scenic road" at a cost of $20.8 million (or $37.5 million, if Federal Highway Administration designs are used); or to do nothing.

Present traffic is 10 to 15 vehicles per day, the report says. If Garfield County's project is carried out, between 35 and 80 vehicles would use the road per day, the draft predicts. If the road is paved, that could go up to 246.

Instead of the hikers, backpackers and mountain bike users on the road, there would be a shift to off-road vehicle camping and vehicle-oriented recreation under the county's proposal.

"These changes would cause an economic upturn in the local economy," the report predicts. "The new mix of recreationists not only (would) demand bigger and better facilities but would also expend more funds per trip to support their array of equipment."

Art Tate of the BLM's Cedar City office said two public meetings are planned so people can comment on the assessment Jan. 4 in the Escalante Community Center and Jan. 6 in the Salt Lake County Commission Chambers, 2001 S. State. Both meetings start at 7 p.m.

Written comments will be accepted by the BLM until Jan. 17. They should be mailed to the agency at 176 East D.L. Sargent Drive, Cedar City, UT 84720. For more information, or to obtain a copy of the statement, write to the BLM or call Dave Everett, 586-2401.