This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
As residents of Salt Lake City, our health was impacted by the 2010 Chevron pipeline rupture and spill into Red Butte Creek and Miller Park adjacent to our homes. Since the city's intervention and reconstruction of the park, our lives have been radically altered. We had adopted a stewardship responsibility for this small nature park that had been abandoned and neglected by the city and transformed it into a vibrant native bird and honey bee habitat in the Red Butte watershed.
As our mayor accepted an endorsement of the Sierra Club and other environmental activists, he defined a hallmark of his administration as "collaboration" with neighborhoods. When presented with an opportunity to enhance Miller Park with Chevron settlement money, Becker rejected suggestions from neighbors and long-term visitors to the park. This makes us question whether collaboration has relevance, other than as a political sound bite.
The recent death of our neighbor and friend Peter Hayes, along with other health issues with residents, has made us concerned about the possible effects of pollutants from the spill, consequences that may have been avoided through real collaboration. As Brian Moench noted in his recent Tribune article, the city and state did not alert us of any potential hazards associated with exposure. Instead of collaborating with residents, Becker elected to "restore" the park for political gain, at our expense.
Becker negotiated a nearly million-dollar settlement with Chevron for alleged impacts to Miller Park, yet ignored public health. Becker hired a Baltimore firm that did not appear on the city's BidSync listing, a standard protocol for procurement. He rejected our petition, signed by more than 80 concerned citizens, including a former U.S. senator's wife and sitting county councilman, requesting that the configuration of trails and stream channel remain essentially unchanged, that existing irrigation be modestly improved and the stability of historic WPA walls be protected. We were upset to learn the city intended to clear-cut all Black Locust trees, introduced by Brigham Young for their value as slope stabilizers, nitrogen enhancers and habitat for endangered honeybees.
When invited to a public session to be told, not asked, about modifications intended for the park, it became clear that collaboration had a different meaning hubris. The creek bed was arbitrarily expanded at least four times. Massive boulders were rolled into place with skid loaders, contrary to the state's guidelines for stream alteration. Work was initiated during the nesting season of screech owls, in violation of federal migratory bird laws. Footings for the historic rock retention walls were undercut and rendered unstable by arbitrary trenching to replace existing irrigation.
Although Parks Director Todd Reese had assured our Yalecrest Neighborhood Council that alignment of the pathway adjacent to the stream would be perpetuated, the city displaced this path adjacent to retaining walls, causing potential destabilization of our back yards and requiring visitors to negotiate a gradient in excess of 50 percent. Since construction, wildlife has rejected Miller Park's wildlife refuge. Stream widening has created an unprecedented mosquito habitat and boulders have rolled downstream onto private property, destroying a historic waterfall in Bonneville Glen.
The opportunity cost is extraordinary. Chevron's settlement money could have otherwise been spent to prevent and mitigate health impacts through public awareness and to restore all areas and lifestyles impacted by the oil spill, through honest and straightforward collaboration. Respiratory complications among our neighbors and friends continue to impact our lives perpetuates as unsettling concerns. The absence of concern for our continual welfare appear to unfortunately illustrate the disingenuous reality of Becker's concept of neighborhood collaboration.
Lisa Long, Christopher and Tehra Hickman and Joseph Cook live in Salt Lake City's Yalecrest neighborhood near Red Butte Creek.