WASHINGTON — The Senate approved a defense bill late Wednesday that virtually seals the deal for creating 100,000 acres of new wilderness area in Utah.

The Cedar Mountain Wilderness Area will help protect the military training mission at the Utah Test and Training Range as well as cut off Private Fuel Storage's preferred railroad starting point to its proposed nuclear waste storage site.

The approval also marks the first wilderness designation in the state in 20 years, according to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

The Senate's voice vote on the 2006 National Defense Authorization bill came late in the evening after hours of waiting for a vote on the separate Defense Appropriations bill. A disagreement on allowing a provision to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge earlier in the day caused a political standoff. The Senate eventually voted to remove the provision from the defense spending bill and then went on to other business.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, reviving an idea originated by former Utah Rep. Jim Hansen, called for the protection of a large area of land to ensure training for Hill Air Force Base and to block nuclear waste from going to PFS's proposed nuclear waste storage site on the Goshute Indian reservation in Tooele County's Skull Valley.

The House included Bishop's bill in the Defense Authorization bill earlier this year, but it was not in the Senate version.

The bill now awaits President Bush's signature to become law.

Lobbying by the state's congressional delegation and by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. convinced senators that it needed to remain in the bill and select House members and senators met to draft a final version. The delegation reached agreement last week when Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., eventually allowed it to stay in.

Utah's delegation considers the bill a big step toward keeping nuclear waste out of Utah, but they all know and acknowledge there are still other options. Nuclear waste still could be transported via trucks to the proposed PFS site. It will be up to the Bureau of Land Management to decide whether to give the company the right of way over government-owned land.

PFS Chairman John Parkyn said a rail line is not completely out of the question, even for the wilderness area, and that it will be up to the government to decide.

"This is not putting it in some pristine forest out there or cutting down trees," Parkyn said. "This is not really wilderness but undeveloped land."

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He said it is the public's land and the public should decide what happens to it.

Also in the Defense Authorization bill, the Air Force will continue a six-year depot maintenance investment plan that will help Hill Air Force Base, according to statement from Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah. "This investment plan is critical for Hill," Hatch said in a statement. "We survived this BRAC round (of base closures), and we need continued funding to ensure that Hill remains one of the nation's premier military depots."

The plan provides $150 million a year over six years to update the Air Force maintenance repair and overhaul operations. So far through the plan, Hill Air Force Base has expanded its software engineering division and implemented new "Lean" manufacturing principles that have produced 100 percent on-time delivery rates for many maintenance programs at Hill, according to Hatch's office.

E-mail: suzanne@desnews.com