An environmental impact statement is needed before any plan to pave the Burr Trail in Garfield County is considered, a majority of the speakers at a public hearing Friday night in Salt Lake City told representatives of the Bureau of Land Management.
About three dozen speakers took the podium for five minutes or less in the second of two public hearings to discuss a draft environmental assessment released recently by the BLM, which deals with Garfield County's proposal to upgrade the Burr Trail.Many speakers said they believe the Burr Trail should not be paved at all. Some said restrictions should be set to control the kind of vehicles allowed on the road and the kinds of developments allowed along the road.
Gordon R. Staker, district manager of the BLM's Cedar City District, sponsor of the hearing at the Salt Lake County Commission Chambers, said his office will make a decision in mid-February on what course of action to follow.
Possible alternatives include grading and improving the dirt road, without paving it, at a cost of about $3.5 million; paving the road, at a cost of $20.8 million to $37.5 million; and leaving the road as it is.
Sierra Club members speaking at the hearing asked the BLM to prepare an environmental impact statement and said increased traffic on the road and the influx of off-road vehicles that might come to the area in Capitol Reef National Monument could threaten the environment.
Terri Martin, a representative of the National Parks and Conservation Association, said the Escalante area is one of the most unusual on earth and improving the road would "bring a different kind of traffic to the area and increase pressure for commercial businesses beside the road.
"We need provisions that will protect this scenic area and prohibit things like commercial hauling and illegal off-road vehicle use."
Laurel LeGate, 9, Salt Lake City, a student at Uintah School, said she doesn't want the trail paved. "Don't pave it, save it," she said, and got loud applause from most of the 80 or more people in the room.
John Williams, a representatives from the Five County Association of Governments, said he supports improving the Burr Trail and said he would like it made into an all-weather road. "The benefits of the improvements will outweigh any costs."
He said too little attention is being paid to tourism, which accounts for 36 percent of the employment in the area.
Garfield County Commissioner Louise Liston said an environmental assessment is unnecessary and the draft environmental assessment recently completed "has answered all the questions. Improvements will not harm or damage the environment.
"Wilderness is an illusion," she said. "It is a shame that all over America so many tax dollars are having to be wasted fighting court battles instigated by rich environmental groups."
Garn Hatch, 71, Salt Lake City, a retired engineer and an outdoorsman and horseman, was among several in the audience who did not speak. He said he was at the hearing simply as an observer.
"I am sorry there has been so much ill will generated over whether or not to pave the Burr Trail. There doesn't seem to be any middle ground nor any sensible course being suggested. I wouldn't mind seeing the road improved somewhat. But all the shouting is at two extremes - tear hell out of the area or do nothing."