Mary McGann: Proposed Book Cliffs highway would be expensive and damaging to local environment

(Rick Egan | Tribune file photo) The Book Cliffs near State Road 45, south of Vernal.

Do Utah taxpayers really want to spend at minimum $150 million to construct a highway with no true purpose?

Building a new highway, at a time when maintaining and improving Utah’s already existing highway infrastructure, is a daunting challenge. Yet, this is exactly what the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition (SCIC) is planning. SCIC claims a new, paved road though the rough and rocky terrain of the Book Cliffs will enhance tourism in Uinta County by providing a faster route for tourists to travel from Dinosaur National Monument to Arches National Park.

This claim, however, is baseless: Traveling from Dinosaur to Arches along Highway 136 through Rangely, Colorado, is only nine minutes slower than the proposed highway.

Not only is this proposed highway through one of Utah’s most pristine mountain ranges extremely expensive, its route would cross through Grand County and the Elmwood ranch. Both Grand County and Lee and Debbie Elmwood have repeatedly told the SCIC that they are adamantly opposed to this project. Yet, rather than respect the wishes of private landowners and Grand County, SCIC keeps pushing to have this unwanted and unwarranted highway built.

For a little more background, the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition is comprised of a board of county commissioners from Uintah, Carbon, San Juan, Emery, Duchesne, Sevier and Daggett Counties, who claim to have conservative values of fiscal responsibility while advocating for local control and private property rights.

However, this proposed highway is fiscally irresponsible and flies in the face of local control and private property rights. Additionally, the highway would place addition burdens on Grand County’s already overloaded law enforcement agencies, Search and Rescue team and UDO,T while annexing eminent domain rights that will significantly alter the Elmwood’s Ranch in a manner that will lower their quality of life, threaten their water supply and put the cattle, horses, elk and deer that graze on their property in danger.

I am truly baffled by the commissioners from Emery, Carbon and Duchesne Counties who are willing to support a project that will divert tourist away from their communities that have worked so hard to enhance their tourism and diversify their economies. Instead of enhancing tourism in Helper, Green River, Price and Duchesne, this project will do the opposite by diverting instead of attracting tourism. The proposed Book Cliffs Highway will send tourists nine minutes faster to Grand County, which is not working to enhance tourism further, but is working to diversify its economy in other ways.

The Book Cliffs region is widely-known as a crown jewel of the Colorado Plateau, full of critical high-quality wildlife habitat, ancient rock art and cliff dwellings, thousand-year-old trees and spectacular scenery. Wildlife enthusiasts largely oppose this highway recognizing how much negative impact it will have on the fish, elk, deer, buffalo, mountain lions and bears that occur there.

Nonetheless, SCIC hopes to be granted money from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill at a time when there are already so many critical infrastructures needs in Utah that the federal money should address. What a waste to spend these monies on such an unnecessary road.

If you reside in one of the counties that make up this coalition, please contact your locally-elected officials to let them know you do not support the creation of a paved highway through the iconic Book Cliffs.

Mary McGann is chair of the Grand County Commission.

Return to Story