Tribal leaders say UTA 'ignores' them
A 250-acre site on state lands near Draper thought to rest above an American Indian village dating back 3,000 years was protected last August from Utah Transit Authority plans to construct a commuter train platform and station.
While UTA now plans to build in a spot farther north at 12800 South, leaders from several area tribes say their ancestors' lives and movements weren't restricted to current boundaries of private or state lands and right of way designations.
"We as Indian people, the first people, we feel like we are being ignored, set aside.... Think of the things we could learn -- but we would rather build a station on the bones of a village that is so old?" asked Jeanine Borchardt, Paiute tribal chairwoman. She and four other tribal representatives joined the Utah Rivers Council at a news conference Thursday, saying they want to be consulted, but have not been.
The groups were mobilized after UTA began construction work in its right of way corridor along the Union Pacific railway near 13500 South and adjacent to the protected "Galena" site. Utah Rivers executive director Zach Frankel said only one acre of the Galena site has been excavated and more than 30,000 artifacts discovered, those significant findings likely indicate more than one million items could be unearthed in the buried village, called the "Soo'nkahni Village."
UTA plans to build a FrontRunner commuter line to Provo and train station on private lands, and developers want to locate a high-density commercial and residential project there. If UTA were to unearth indigenous sites or artifacts, measures would be taken to consult the tribes and sensitively excavate the area, Carpenter said.
"We have very high respect for the Indian tribes and their heritage," he said, noting that no artifacts have been found on private land, and the culturally sensitive lands identified on that state property have been protected.
Dick Buehler, state Forestry, Fire and State Lands Division Director, said no archaeological surveys have been done on the nearby private lands, because those would need to be commissioned by the owners.
"I think the archaeological site could be beyond the state land," Buehler said. "We don't know until someone gets out there and does a survey."
Unless federal funds are involved in the project -- UTA is funding FrontRunner South with local dollars -- Buehler said federal law does not require private land owners to consult American Indian tribes before, during or after excavations, even if culturally sensitive items are found.
"If they want to show good faith to the tribes and consult with them, then that's certainly their choice," Buehler said, "and if they want to ignore them, that's their right as well."
Utah Rivers Council raised concerns the Utah Transit Authority dumped excavated soil onto protected state lands near Draper. State Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands told UTA to stop until a boundary issue was resolved. But director Dick Buehler said the error seemed "unintentional" and "minimal."
UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter said there is a discrepancy between state and railway records over the exact property line, and if UTA trespassed on state land, it would mitigate and rectify the situation.
That instance is just one of many, Utah Rivers' executive director Zach Frankel said, of UTA "disregarding state and federal laws.
He asserts UTA began construction before determining the environmental impact of its new station location UTA's Carpenter insisted that "We're fully in compliance with all environmental laws and regulation."