Feds order UTA to halt work on FrontRunner stretch

Draper » Native American Village thought to be 3,000 years old at risk.
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A recent cease and desist order put the brakes on construction of a two-mile stretch of Utah Transit Authority's commuter rail line through Draper.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers verbally issued the stop-work command to UTA late last week due to concerns about dumping of fill dirt on an adjacent archaeological site known to cradle a 3,000-year-old Native American village.

A written order will follow shortly, Jason Gipson, chief of the Utah-Nevada Regulatory Branch of the Corps, said Tuesday.

The shutdown comes on the heels of a notice of noncompliance the Corps sent UTA on April 8.

"The area in question is a sensitive sacred site," Gipson said. "We're trying to prevent further impacts."

The 252-acre site, called Galena Village, is known to be artifact-rich and to contain evidence of perhaps the earliest known agricultural activity in North America, said Zach Frankel, executive director of the nonprofit Utah Rivers Council.

The Corps order asked UTA to cease all work -- including transport of equipment, excavation and all earth-disturbing activity -- within the area extending from 12600 South to the north edge of Bangerter Highway. The order will stay in force until the issues of noncompliance are resolved, Gipson added.

According to UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter, the order will not affect the construction schedule because the agency has 43 other miles it can work on. Meantime, he said UTA will do everything necessary to comply.

"The noncompliance occurred where our contractors unknowingly worked outside the permit areas," Carpenter said, noting that a boundary dispute caused the problem.

"The contractor deposited soil on adjacent land that he thought was UTA land" -- since two state documents show the boundary in different locations.

UTA obtained a permit in 2008, after a 2007 environmental study was completed, which focused on a Bluffdale-Draper Frontrunner station south of Bangerter Highway. However, several events have since occurred -- including Bluffdale's rejection of such a facility and Gov. Gary Herbert's signing of a conservation easement to allay the fears of Utah's Native American tribes.

After Herbert's action, UTA shifted to an alternate station location at 12800 South, but did not ask for permit modifications until last month -- about two months after preliminary construction for the station's platform had begun.

Utah's Tribal Leaders Council passed a resolution opposing FrontRunner stations at either 12800 or 13500 South and asking that their historic lands be protected.

Their opposition is about much more than the dumping of some dirt, said Curtis Cesspooch, chairman of the Uintah/Ouray Utes.

"If they did build that stop station without a permit," Cesspooch said, "and if federal money is involved, you have to follow all the federal regulations ... but they have not done that."

UTA and the Corps both failed to formally consult with Utah's tribal leaders, Cesspooch added.

Cesspooch also worries about the dense transit-oriented development planned adjacent to the station and how it will impact their cultural village.

"It opens up more possibility for vandalism and looting" -- similar to what happened in southern Utah, Cesspooch said.

Richard Buehler, director of Utah's Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, said UTA began work before a 30-foot easement was finalized with the state.

"I don't know if they jumped the gun," Buehler said, "but they did some things without getting the necessary approvals first. And some of it was land they thought they owned."

The whole situation "will take some time to sort out," Buehler added.

Representatives from his office will sit down with all parties -- the Corps, Tribes and state history officials -- to determine what mitigation needs to occur to safegaurd the site, Buehler said.

By 2013, transit officials hope to have the 45-mile project between Salt Lake City and Provo ready to transport passengers on high-speed trains.