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Nine Mile Canyon Debate Open for Public Comment

Nine Mile Canyon Debate Open for Public Comment

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John Hollenhorst ReportingLast week we told you about a government archaeologist who was pulled off his agency's study of a big natural gas project.

The B.L.M. says he had a conflict of interest, while critics say he was silenced for trying to protect archaeological sites in Nine Mile Canyon. But how damaging would the project actually be?

Environment Specialist John Hollenhorst provides us with a follow-up report.

One side says the battle over Nine Mile Canyon is about dust, vibrations and the future industrialization of an area renowned for rock art. But the Bureau of Land Management says archaeology sites aren't threatened.

The exploration won't be done at all in the actual canyon where most of the known archaeological sites are. A previous plan for drilling in Nine Mile Canyon itself has been dropped, at least for now.

The main issue is a huge seismic exploration project just outside Nine Mile Canyon. It forms a grid covering 90 square miles. Small explosive charges will be set off inside thousands of shallow drill holes. On existing roads, big thumper trucks will shake the ground. Sensitive instruments will record the vibrations to map the underground geology. But experts say the vibrations are almost undetectable by humans.

Julie McGee, B.L.M. Staff Archaeologist: "All the archaeological sites will be avoided. Some of the mores sensitive rock art and structural sites will be avoided by 300 feet by any seismic activity. We're also requiring archaeological monitoring during the project by professional archaeologists."

Critics say no one can predict the effect of vibrations on archaeological sites. And they also say dust from heavy truck traffic will damage rock art.

Layne Miller, Utah Rock Art Research Foundation: "The B.L.M. keeps approving one project here, one project there, and another project here. And they're not talking about the overall impact of a full-blown gas well development. And that's what we're going to end up with."

The B.L.M. concluded there will be no significant environmental impact. That assessment is out for public comment until October 2nd.

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