Seven of eight people speaking at a public meeting favored paving the Burr Trail in southern Utah.
About 40 people attended the Bureau of Land Management meeting Wednesday night on the draft environmental assessment concerning the 66-mile dirt road running from Boulder to the Bullfrog Marina on Lake Powell. Another meeting is scheduled Friday in Salt Lake City.The $50,000 bill for the study will be paid by Garfield County, which has been fighting environmentalists over plans for the trail for more than two years.
Federal courts have upheld the county's right-of-way along the trail, which the county wants to pave in the hope of improving tourism. Environmentalists contend the improvements would destroy the untouched nature of the area and encroach on lands being considered for wilderness.
When the courts said an environmental assessment would be needed for areas of proposed improvement adjacent to wilderness study areas, the county decided to conduct a study for the entire length of the trail to avoid "attacks by environmentalists on down the line," Commission Chairman Tom Hatch said at the meeting Wednesday.
"The issue has already been studied to death by the BLM, federal district courts, Garfield County, environmental groups and others," he said. "It's time for the project to move forward."
He said the draft environmental assessment "goes well beyond the scope of the study stipulated by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals."
The assessment does not restrict itself to the narrowly defined issue of "undue or unnecessary degradation" of wilderness study areas, he said.
Attorney Barbara Hjelle disputed the findings in the draft assessment. She said it is replete with "value-laden conclusive terminology and fails to use factual language in setting forth its conclusions."
Bruce Chesler, Kanarraville, the speaker at the meeting not in favor of paving the trail, also found problems with the study.
He said it failed to address the potential impact of industrial development in the Circle Cliffs area, and said the study probably overestimates current use of the road.
He called for a full environmental impact statement, which the county hopes to avoid.