Herbert hands tribes a big win

Preservation » Deal shifts FrontRunner away from ancient American Indian village.
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Barely a week into his new gig, Gov. Gary Herbert already is changing Utah's direction.

On Tuesday, he joined with American Indian tribes in reversing the 2009 Legislature's course by steering a proposed FrontRunner station away from culturally sensitive ground in Draper.

The deal preserves 252 acres, home to an ancient Indian village, through a conservation easement the state granted to the nonprofit Utah Open Lands.

The Utah Transit Authority, in turn, agreed to abandon its preferred site and build its train stop, which would be accompanied by a large mixed-use development, farther north.

"This is a historic day," Herbert said.

The compromise protects a bluff east of the Jordan River near 13500 South, known as the Galena property, which also is home to migratory birds. Ruins there date back 3,000 years and reveal evidence of the earliest known corn farming in the Great Basin. The state archaeologist has declared it a significant site.

"It is a very sacred ground for us," said Rupert Steele, chairman of Utah Tribal Leaders and of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation. "It's a place where our ancestors had ceremonies. They mourned their dead. They laughed and ran around and taught their children."

UTA has vowed to bring FrontRunner from Salt Lake City to Provo by 2015, but hopes to finish the project sooner, said General Counsel Bruce Jones.

Now, the agency plans to work with Draper to acquire 10 acres near 12800 South for its station. The property is part of a larger 150-acre site that a private developer could turn into a transit-oriented commercial node -- possibly with housing, eateries, shops and offices. That kind of development, Jones said, makes a station "viable."

"We are delighted with the outcome," he said. "It is truly a win for UTA, for open lands, for the Native Americans."

Jones also lauded Herbert for a "terrific accomplishment" so early into his administration.

The Legislature mandated the 252 acres be preserved for open space in 2000. But the Department of Natural Resources never signed a proposed conservation easement, and last winter lawmakers did an about-face to accommodate UTA's preferred site.

DNR Executive Director Mike Styler acknowledged delaying action on the easement last year at then-House Speaker Greg Curtis' request. Curtis is an attorney who also represented a potential purchaser for the land, though his client later backed out.

Last month, representatives of Utah's seven tribes urged Herbert to preserve the cultural treasure.

"I'm really happy that everyone can work together as one for the betterment of Utah," Paiute Chairwoman Jeanine Borchardt said Tuesday. "This [land] is our history and also our culture. Without our history, I really don't think we have a future. We need to know where we came from and who we are."

Draper Mayor Darrell Smith said he and his City Council had "high hopes" -- before Tuesday's deal -- of placing the train station and surrounding development on the Galena property. He considers it a "better location" because of its proximity to Draper residents and access to Bangerter Highway and a planned freeway interchange.

"We still support the governor," Smith said. "We also respect these artifact sites a great deal and, I guess, support now moving forward with the [new] site."

Wendy Fisher, executive director of Utah Open Lands, said the Galena land is now one of the largest pieces of protected open space along the Jordan River.

"There's an incredible sense of solace when you're down there," she said. "The sacredness of this site, the conservation value of this land is now protected -- and that's an amazing thing for the entire state."