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UTA ordered to stop construction on commuter rail line

By John Daley | Posted - Apr. 21, 2010 at 5:41 p.m.



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DRAPER -- A federal agency has stopped construction on two miles of UTA's FrontRunner project over mistakes at a controversial commuter rail stop.

UTA calls it an honest mistake, but after UTA dumped piles of dirt onto a protected 3,000-year-old archaeological site, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it wants to prevent potential damage.

These problems were first reported last week. Now the consequence is clear: a stop-work order for one section of the project.

UTA describes this a minor setback, but others see it as a sign of deeper problems at the agency.

When UTA decided to move a stop on its FrontRunner line from Bluffdale to Draper, it unleashed a series of controversies, most prominently about disturbing a historically-significant archaeological site.

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The problems mounted when UTA crews trespassed and dumped dirt on protected state land. Now, the agency has been ordered by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to halt work on a two-mile stretch of the 45-mile line.

Regulatory Branch Chief of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Jason Gipson said, "We're trying to ensure that there's no adverse effect or further adverse effect to the site without going through proper processes and involving the appropriate individuals."

Beyond the archaeological issue, the Corps says when UTA changed locations it never got the proper permits for work at Corner Canyon and the Jordan Narrows.

UTA calls it an honest mistake.

UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter said, "The good thing is the project itself shouldn't experience much in the way of delays. We have a 45-mile line we're working on, so there's another 43 miles that we can continue to work and we can just move our crews to those areas."

Utah's Indian tribes worry irreparable damage could be done to a site archaeologists have called among the most significant in the state.

"I'm really glad that the project's been shut down until this thing can be resolved somehow," said Chairman of the Ute Business Committee Curtis Cesspooch. "I don't know if it's going to be resolved or if they just pick another site."

Other critics see the stoppage as symptomatic of an agency which has been recently dogged by questions about conflicts of interest on its board -- and excessive executive salaries.

"UTA's leadership, it's overpaid leadership, it's jeopardizing transit projects in Utah," said Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council. "It is time to open this agency up to external reviews."

The Army Corps could force UTA to restore the site, change its permit or levy fines and penalties.

In the meantime, the various parties -- including UTA, the Army Corps, tribes and state officials -- are expected to meet soon to discuss the situation.

UTA's Board of Trustees will meet at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 28, 2010, in the Meridian A Room at the Davis Conference Center, 1651 N. 700 West in Layton. The meeting is open to the public.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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