Now the hard part: Living up to Nine Mile deal

Preservation » Sides must do their parts or they could end up in court.
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A pact signed Tuesday at the Utah Capitol spells out how the federal government and a natural-gas developer will protect artifacts, ruins and ancient rock art in Nine Mile Canyon.

Now, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Bill Barrett Corp. must live up to it -- or possibly face legal consequences.

The signing ceremony capped a year of negotiations among historians, conservationists, tribal leaders, elected officials, land regulators and Bill Barrett.

But, as some participants pointed out, the agreement is but the beginning.

The document, called a programmatic agreement, will be included in the BLM's pending final environmental impact statement and decision on Bill Barrett's proposed full-field development of natural gas on the West Tavaputs Plateau east of Price. But the pact also will have a life of its own.

"It's a stand-alone, binding legal agreement," said Ti Hays, public-lands attorney for the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Federal courts, he added, have been consistent in enforcing programmatic agreements.

However, possible lawsuits weren't topics of discussion Tuesday, Instead, it was a time for a wide range of organizations to laud their own hard work.

The conservation and historic-preservation groups that pushed hardest to protect Nine Mile Canyon were cautious as they sized up their accomplishment, which Bill Barrett Senior Vice President Duane Zavadil has called unprecedented.

"The mechanism is in place," said Pam Miller, president of the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition. "But everyone has to do their part."

The biggest achievement, she said, was persuading the BLM to include the canyon on maps showing where Bill Barrett plans to develop 800 new gas wells in addition to the 100 or so already on the plateau. New maps accompany the agreement to show the project area now stretches across the canyon, rim to rim.

Before the signing, Gov. Gary Herbert complimented the organizations and agencies.

"I appreciate the efforts of so many people who stepped forward to say, 'Let me be a part of the solution instead of part of the problem,' " Herbert said. "Thanks to everyone for being reasonable and rational."

The deal focuses on how to minimize industrial harm to the rock art that lines the walls of Nine Mile Canyon's narrow dirt road.

Attempts to protect the canyon's treasures date back decades, but heated up in 2004, when Bill Barrett announced it would seek full-field development.

Although the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition hoped the BLM and the company would consider building an alternate route to the gas field, the steep road remains the only way to get to the plateau, which lies in Carbon and Duchesne counties.

The agreement's main concern is dust caused by industrial traffic, and how to suppress it. Conservationists say big-rig trucks stir up too much dust along with the chemicals used to suppress it, which studies show have fouled the air and corroded the rock panels.

Under the accord, dust will be considered controlled when big rigs don't kick up plumes above their cabs or leave behind hanging plumes.

On the dotted line

An agreement framing how to protect Nine Mile Canyon's historic treasures saw many signatures Tuesday, including Utah's Historic Preservation Office, the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, the national Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and Carbon County.

The Ute Tribe, the Hopi Tribe, Navajo Nation, the Southern Paiute Tribe, the state Public Lands Policy Coordination Office, the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Duchesne County, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and archaeological groups, including the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance, signed as concurring parties.