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Archaeologists: Draper Frontrunner site amongst most important in Utah


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DRAPER -- New controversy is swirling around a proposed stop for FrontRunner commuter rail. Archaeologists describe the site slated for a big new transit-oriented development as one of the top 10 archaeological treasures ever found in Utah.

It's a place time forgot: 200-plus acres of open space located a half-mile west of the IKEA store in Draper. There, a quiet sliver in a city growing as fast as a train.

UTA and the city of Draper are zeroing in on the site for a rail stop and huge, transit-oriented development. Not everyone is happy.

"It's one of only a few preserved prehistoric archaeological sites at all in the Salt Lake Valley," said Matt Seddon, with the Utah Professional Archaeological Council.

Thirty thousand artifacts have been uncovered so far, including arrowheads and grinding stones. Each is a clue about life long ago.

"The site dates to over 3,000 years ago, and it's just probably one of the last sites of its type left anywhere along the Wasatch Front," said Assistant State Archaeologist Ron Rood.

Buried structures found there along with and evidence of the use of corn mark a key transition of early Native Americans from hunter-gatherers to agriculturalists. "We want to try and test the site, get a little bit of information and preserve it in place," Rood said.

In 2000, lawmakers voted to protect the land permanently. But in the fall of 2008, then-House Speaker Greg Curtis intervened with the state in his capacity as a lawyer representing a property owner looking to swap for the land.

A conservation easement never happened. Now, with UTA eyeing the same site for development, some who compare its importance to 9-Mile Canyon and Range Creek are scratching their heads.

"We're just not making 3,000-year-old sites anymore. It's a finite resource," Rood said.

Seddon told us, "Under the current plan, by my understanding, some or all of the site could be destroyed."

Late this afternoon, the bill approving a land swap which would pave the way for the development sailed through a second reading on the Senate floor. Democratic Sen. Luz Robles read a statement from the Goshute tribe condemning the land trade. Despite that, the Senate passed the bill 22-5, but it has to pass a third reading before it can go on to the governor.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

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John Daley

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