Utah tribes are opposing the construction of a Frontrunner stop on a 3,000-year-old Native American archaeological site.
Gov. Jon Huntsman signed legislation last March to swap land near the Bangerter Highway in Draper for the building of a FrontRunner stop and a "transit-oriented development," but Utah's five American Indian tribes said Wednesday they plan to deliver a resolution to the governor's office within the week to oppose building on the site, which is chock full of Native American artifacts.
"It's like if someone discovered Salt Lake City cemetery in 1,000 years, and said let's put a building here," said Jeanine Borchardt, Paiute tribal chairwoman.
The Utah Department of Natural Resources released a report in May 2006 that Native American artifacts were found in the spot where Utah Transit Authority proposes to build the stop, and Utah tribal leaders fear that without further excavation, building anywhere in the nearby area could destroy other sacred artifacts and the possibility to learn more about Utah's history.
"When I was in school, I asked why we didn't learn Native American history, and I was told it was insignificant," said Rupert Steel, chair of the Utah Tribal Leaders and representative of the Goshute Tribe. "Are we to be overlooked?"
Bruce Parry, chairman of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, said the 250-acre site is full of valuable Indian artifacts from a village that existed as much as 3,000 years ago. Translated from Shoshone, the area is known as "land of many homes," Steel said.
In 2000, the artifacts were discovered in a 30-acre plot and the Utah Legislature passed legislation to preserve the surrounding area. An ancient village was also found further north near Corner Canyon Creek. The land is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places, and also valuable as a wetlands and wildlife habitat, according to the natural resources report.
UTA has not decided anything concrete about the project's future but could easily move the site of their Frontrunner stop if need be, said spokesman Gerry Carpenter.
The 10 acres in Draper is just one of four possible locations UTA might build the station, which is planned to begin operations in 2013. UTA and the Governor's Office plan to coordinate with several groups, including the tribes, to figure out which location would be best, he said. Tribal leaders said they aren't sure if they would help foot the bill for a full, potentially multimillion dollar archaeological study to determine whether more artifacts exist in any of the four areas UTA has in mind to build the stop.
Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert has asked to meet with all parties involved in the land dispute, Parry said.
If UTA were to choose the Draper location, Carpenter assured that preserving the artifacts would be a priority.
"We're very interested in protecting our heritage," he said.
Utah's tribal leaders also complain that UTA hasn't been open about potential conflicts of interest between UTA board member Terry Diehl and the likely developer of property around the station. UTA board member Terry Diehl was an acting consultant for Whitewater VII, which has plans to develop shops and other retail businesses around the stop.
"If this is sacred ground to the Native Americans, I have no problem with them going through the process and going to the governor," said former UTA board member Greg Simonson. "I'm sure UTA will be sensitive to their concerns."
e-mail: [email protected]