UTA to delay site development decision

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DRAPER -- A key decision about a controversial commuter rail stop is now on hold. The Utah Transit Authority says it needs more time before choosing where a new stop and proposed development in the south end of the Salt Lake Valley will go.

UTA originally had hoped to make a decision about a proposed FrontRunner stop in Draper in the next few weeks. But the agency says it plans to first complete a study of "cultural and archaeological impacts" to the site.

Archaeologists have been studying the 250-acre site between I-15 and the Jordan River in Draper. They say artifacts found there date back 3,000 years and could provide key information about how some of the earliest inhabitants of our region lived.

Last week, a coalition representing conservation groups, Draper residents, archaeologists and some lawmakers met with members of the governor's staff to voice their concerns, in particular that the ancient archaeological site could be paved over.

Rep. Janice Fisher, D-West Valley City, said last Monday, "I think it's very important not only to the state of Utah, to the United States, but the whole world that this very, very important archaeological site be saved, preserved."

In an e-mail, UTA attorney Bruce Jones said, "UTA will set out a process for investigating the southern Draper site and involving federal and state governmental agencies and other interested parties."

Archaeologists believe artifacts found on the 250-acre site between Interstate 15 and the Jordan River are evidence of a 3,000-year-old Native American tribe.

It's unclear if UTA's investigation plans will include a full excavation of the site.

Archaeologists have studied the area three times and have excavated fire pits, a house and part of a second house, along with other artifacts.

Assistant state archaeologist Ron Rood says there's still work to be done at the site and hopes UTA will seek a different location for its project.

Rood said those who lived on the site had a diet of plants, grass seeds, cattails, rice grass, yuccas, pine nuts, rabbits, deer and big horn sheep. They also did not use pottery or make tools from metal.

"We recovered lots and lots of their cooking stones and rocks that they would have used for cooking food," Rood said.

A chemical analysis of the tools found helped archaeologists make a groundbreaking discovery: The inhabitants experimented with farming corn.

"We don't really see corn being used by prehistoric folks until roughly 2,000 years ago, or 1,000 years after this site was occupied," he said. "It has the potential to add some really cool information about early agriculture in the Great Basin."

If UTA selects that Draper site, a developer hopes to build a large, mixed-use, transit-oriented project next to the transit stop.

The proposal has run into a series of controversies over the ruins, open space and conflicts of interest involving key players in the deal. UTA now says it won't make a decision until it has fully investigated the site.

E-mail: jdaley@ksl.com

(Copyright 2008 Bonneville International Corporation. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or distributed. AP contributed to this report.) AP Rights & Restrictions

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