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Valuing history

Published July 13, 2011 1:01 am

Firings rightly raise a ruckus
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Gov. Gary Herbert and other state officials have been getting an earful from people "disgusted," "outraged," and "dismayed" at the firings of three state archaeologists. Those who support the action might say these are only people who have an interest in preserving relics of our past, not anybody important — merely other archaeologists, educators and Utahns who believe the state budget should be balanced some other way.

The anger and suspicion are justified. It appears Utah values its ancient heritage less than it values increasing amounts of asphalt in the state, since the Legislature went out of its way to protect highway funding during its session this year while whacking the budget for the Utah Department of Community and Culture.

Although effects of the Great Recession have undoubtedly made reductions in state budgets necessary, the firings of three state archaeologists who got in the way of development can't be explained away that easily.

The positions of state archaeologist Kevin Jones and assistants Derinna Kopp and Ronald Rood were eliminated, not only to save money, but to settle scores. The three had become an annoyance to some of the powerful people in the Legislature, governor's office and the Utah Transit Authority, and they had opposed powerful real estate developers.

It seems they became targets after they fought a proposed site of a new FrontRunner station in Draper when it was discovered also to be the location of an ancient American Indian village. It was a major archaeological find, the earliest known example of corn cultivation in the Great Basin. The three pushed to get the station relocated, raising the ire of Terry Diehl, who was a member of the UTA Board of Trustees and, at the same time, an owner of a real estate company that wanted to locate transit-related developments at the original site.

Powerful people tend to be vindictive. Now this trio of knowledgeable scientists is off the state payroll, and the state is the poorer for it.

And this isn't the only evidence of a lack of appreciation for Utah's rich historical heritage, which dates back thousands of years to the ancient Anasazi people who once lived here.

Sitting atop a list of state parks recommended for closure is Edge of the Cedars Museum, which houses some of the thousands of ancient Native American artifacts found in San Juan County. The museum is a valuable economic resource to the residents of Blanding, generating nearly $400,000 a year in tourist dollars. It deserves state support.




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