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Chapter #315: BLM & SITLA - URLEA Subterfuge - September 8, 2014


Parcel 32 at Canyonlands Field, Moab Utah gives Utah/SITLA industrial land at cow pasture prices - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

BLM/SITLA - Subterfuge and Obfuscation Exposed in Parcel-32 Land Exchange

Early in his first term, President Obama signed into law the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act (URLEA) of 2009. Its full title was, “To direct the exchange of certain land in Grand, San Juan, and Uintah Counties, Utah, and for other purposes.” At that time, few people realized that the phrase, “and for other purposes” would subvert the publicly avowed intention of that bill.


 
See a U.S. Army Black Ops visit to Parcel 32, Moab, Utah

If you read the official Library of Congress Summary of the enabling legislation, its wording is straightforward. It authorizes an exchange of federal lands for state owned lands within certain Utah Counties:
8/5/2009 - Public Law [Summary].

A 2014 view of BLM/SITLA Parcel 32 at Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)As the official summary states, the state and federal parcels exchanged were to be of equal value. Oddly, there is no mention of “recreational lands” in the official summary. Later, on an official web page, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) touted the supposed
“conservation and recreation value” of the URLEA. On that web page, BLM stated the following: “The BLM will acquire 58-parcels with high conservation and recreation value, totaling 25,034 acres, primarily in Grand County. These parcels will expand the BLM backcountry with world class recreation sites like Corona Arch and Morning Glory Arch. This exchange will improve the quantity and quality of recreational experiences for visitors to public lands and waters managed by the BLM. The State will acquire 34-parcels with high mineral development potential, totaling 35,516 acres, primarily in Uintah County. The state expects development of these high potential parcels to boost public school funding across Utah”.

A twin turboprop U.S. Army aircraft prepares to depart Parcel 32 at Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)On that BLM/URLEA web page, conversion of Exchange Parcel 32 to “light industrial use in future” received no mention. As URLEA became law in May 2014, the fate of those 352-acres was in direct contradiction to BLM’s “story line” about saving arches and promoting recreation within Grand County. Instead, prime open land in Grand County transferred to the State of Utah via its School and Institutional Lands Trust Administration (SITLA). At just over $2000 per acre, SITLA received industrial land at cow pasture prices.

In its “Protest Dismissed” document, BLM dismissed my protest of Parcel 32 valuation as “grazing land”. To quote that document, it stated,
“The EA disclosed the current and future anticipated use of Federal Lands by SITLA. The uses identified for (Parcel 32) include: Current/grazing and wildlife habitat; Future/continued grazing use for intermediate term; possible light industrial use in future.” Without citing any corroborating appraisal documents, BLM stated that their process took "future potential development into
A 2014 view from Parcel 32, looking east toward the La Sal Range in Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)account". If BLM appraised the industrial future of Parcel 32 against any comparable parcels in Grand County, where are those parcels located? According to my recent searches, there are no undeveloped industrial parcels for sale in Grand County, let alone a 352-acre parcel intertwined with its regional airport.

In its “Protest Dismissed” document, BLM writes that,
Environmental Assessment No. DOI-BLM-UT-9100-2013-001-EA (EA), completed in March 2013 (emphasis mine) in support of the exchange action, disclosed mineral leasing and development as the projected (sic) on many of the parcels the SITLA would acquire. The “EA”, made available for public review and comment via BLM’s Electronic Bulletin Board (EBB) in April 2013, addressed the potential impacts to resources associated with mineral development, and did not disclose any significant impacts associated with the proposed exchange.”

U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter Number 32 (with three bullet marks in its nose) prepares to leave Parcel 32 at Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)On Page 8 of BLM’s "Decision Record Signed", in
"Section B. Land Use Conformance", it specifically states that "parcel 32 (Moab) located in the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges SRMA" was "identified for retention In Federal ownership in (its) respective RMP". Later in the same paragraph, BLM employs obfuscatory 'double-speak', saying that Parcel 32 and two other parcels were included in the exchange because, "BLM determined that a planning amendment was unnecessary as the URLEA explicitly directs the BLM to exchange certain Federal lands, provided the exchange meets certain conditions". In that sentence we learn that BLM was required to meet certain explicit conditions for a unilateral conversion of Parcel 32 from its current protected status as federal grazing land and antelope habitat to future light industrial use. Nowhere else in the Decision Record Signed, the Environmental Assessment or the Exchange Agreement do we learn why "URLEA explicitly directs the BLM" to include Parcel 32 in the exchange or which of "certain conditions" were met. Whenever BLM uses the word "certain" twice in one sentence, we should be told what those certainties are.

U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter Number 32 prepares to depart Parcel 32, Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The BLM EBB web page referenced in BLM’s “Protest Dismissed” document contains several conflicting data points. Referencing BLM’s reasons for denying my protest one at a time, here are the facts:

1. Contrary to BLM’s dismissal, the “EA” was not
“completed in March 2013”. In fact, the “public review/commentary period” did not start until 4/22/13. In fact, the EBB web page states; “4/01/2013: Environmental Assessment Being Prepared [BLM]”. Elsewhere on the same page, it states; “12/30/2013: EA Completed [BLM]”.

2. Farther on in its dismissal, BLM claims that the “EA”, as posted on the BLM EBB in April 2013;
“addressed the potential impacts to resources associated with mineral (emphasis mine) development”. Concluding, the "EA" “did not disclose any significant impacts associated with the proposed exchange”.

U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter with its "Parcel 32" markings partially obscured by radar-absorbing paint, at Parcel 32, Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)3. The BLM document titled "
Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI)" was unavailable to the public in April 2013 and was not published until February 2014. In its “Protest Dismissed” document, BLM indicates that full disclosure of all relevant documents to my protest were completed and published not later than April 2013. Clearly, with the February 2014 publication of the FONSI, such is not the case.

4. As referenced on the BLM EBB web page, the much vaunted “EA” was not completed until;
12/30/2013: EA Completed [BLM]. Nine months prior to the publication of the “EA”, did BLM already know that it would “not disclose any significant impacts associated with the proposed exchange”? If the reader click’s the link to the final “EA” document at the bottom of the BLM EBB web page, the resulting Environmental Assessment is dated September 2013.

U.S. Army Black Hawk Number 32 warms up prior to departure from Parcel 32, Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com5. The crux of the issue is; when, where and in what form was the Environmental Assessment released to the public? Was it in April 2013, as BLM suggests in its “Protest Dismissed” document”? Was it in September 2013, as the published “final EA document” indicates? Or was it completed on December 30, 2013, as the Electronic Bulletin Board page indicates? Any way you look at it, the content and publication date(s) of the Environmental Assessment represent a moving target.

In the conclusion of its “Protest Dismissed” document, BLM states,
“A protestor bears the burden of establishing that the BLM premised a decision on a clear error of law, error of material fact, or failure to consider a substantial environmental question of material significance. The protestor has not met this burden in this instance”.

Although I cannot claim that BLM has committed a
“clear error of law”, its inaccuracy and the conflicting publication dates associated with the “EA” represent a multifarious “error of material fact”.

Tandem skydivers arrive for inspection of Parcel 32, Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Other factual errors include limiting the scope of BLM’s environmental assessment to
“the potential impacts to resources associated with mineral development”. In so doing, I believe that BLM discounted the future industrialization value of Parcel 32. Nowhere else in Grand County is there a major parcel self-certified for future industrial use. If unilaterally converting 352-acres of open land to “future light industrial use” at Canyonlands Field does not qualify as having potential environmental impact, what does?

Do not forget the bargain price of just over $2000 per acre that SITLA exchanged for unique and now pre-sanctioned industrial land. As of this writing, the Grand County Council plans to use the final URLEA “Exchange Agreement” as the basis for future resource and land use planning. As such, BLM’s designation of
“future light industrial use” on Parcel 32 may well create its own self-fulfilling prophecy.

Moab Jim arrives by Learjet at Parcel 32, Canyonlands Field, Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)By law, the URLEA was to be an “exchange of equal value”. Only time will tell what profit SITLA will make from the sale of Parcel 32. My guess is that it will be many multiples of the $780,000 value that they exchanged. As SITLA plans for the sale of Parcel 32 into the private sector, I hope that it will be more transparent with its procedures than BLM was during the URLEA process.

As for the Grand County Council, its current makeup is stacked in favor of every possible form of mineral and industrial development. In May 2014, when the Exchange Agreement became federal law, the Grand County Council found its perfect foil. In July 2014, the council refused to disavow a planned “Hydrocarbon Highway” through the ancient and sacred sites at Sego Canyon. In its quest to pave Sego Canyon and to rezone Parcel 32 from “grazing” to “light industrial”, the Grand County Council now cites “federal law” as its legal precedent.

Will secret industrial Black Ops at Parcel 32 endanger Delicate Arch in Arches National Park? Only time will tell - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)When SITLA does sell Parcel 32, I expect a bidding war between energy companies and Grand County developers. In the over hyped legal agreement that BLM and SITLA called a
“Recreational Land Exchange”, the phrase “and for other purposes” in that law will soon create a New Industrial Desert on Parcel 32 at Canyonlands Field near Moab, Utah. As the old saying goes, you cannot judge a book by its cover. In the case of the Utah Recreational and Exchange Act of 2009 (URLEA), the exchange of Parcel 32 was in direct contradiction to the name and spirit, if not the letter of that law. If BLM and SITLA wish to maintain any claim to being stewards of the land, both must disavow such subterfuge in the future.

 


By James McGillis at 05:47 PM | | Comments (0) | Link


Chapter #314: Moab Pile to be "Moab Pit" - 2029 - July 24, 2014


In May 2014, The Moab Pile is reportedly 41% smaller than when remediation began in 2009 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Moab UMTRA Removal and Remediation Job May Be Larger Than Previously Thought

Since May 2009, I have published eight articles regarding the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Moab Uranium Mill Tailings Remedial Action Project (UMTRA). In 2005, radioactive and chemical laden soil from the former Atlas Minerals Corp. uranium mill towered ninety-feet high along the Colorado River at Moab. At that time, DOE announced that 11.9 million tons of radioactive tailings would move thirty miles to a secure burial site near Crescent Junction, Utah.

See Progress Removing Nuclear & Chemical Waste at the Moab Pile


In February 2014, DOE announced that contractors had removed and transported 6.5 million tons, or forty-one percent of the total tailings pile. If the 6.5 million tons removed equals forty-one percent of the tailings, then somehow the Moab Pile had expanded from 11.9 million to 16.2 million tons. With no new material added, and 6.5 million tons removed, the original size of the Moab Pile had somehow expanded by thirty-six percent.

U.S. Highway 191 and the Moab Tailings Pile as seen in October 2006 from the Arches National Park Entrance Road - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Moab is a magical place, but since no one is creating new dirt, the growth of 4.3 million tons at the tailings pile is a Moab mystery. With such vagaries appearing in official DOE documents, there should be a better accounting of how much material there is yet to remove. At current rates of transport, the DOE expects a complete the removal of contaminated material by about 2025. If we take projected annual shutdowns of the federal government into account, the project timeline stretches out to Friday April 13, 2029.

Prior to the completion of its charter, Moab UMTRA expects to excavate and remove all contaminated material from the site. The problem with that scenario is that no one knows how deep or wide the plume of contaminated water and saturated soil actually is. If the weight of contaminated tailings grew by 4.3 million tons in the first nine years of the project, what is to keep it from growing an equal amount in the next nine years?

By 2008, DOE engineers were constructing the tailings transfer facility at the Moab Pile - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)If we look at the underlying hydrology, there are two major influences on water flow and ground saturation at the UMTRA site. First is the once-mighty Colorado River. As the river swings through an arc at Moab Canyon, the tailings pile lies on the outside of that bend. During flood years, such as 2011 and to a lesser degree 2014, hydrological pressure pushes Colorado River water into the lower reaches of the Moab Pile. At the same time, the Moab Wash brings both surface flow and underground percolation downstream from the sand-filled canyon near the main entrance at Arches National Park.

In an ideal world, the hydrological pressure from the Colorado River would cancel out the subterranean flow from the Moab Wash watershed. In the real world, a well field located between the tailing pile and the river attempts to extract and purify groundwater before it enters the Colorado River. As of
By September 2009, containers of nuclear and hazardous waste were moving from the Moab Pile to Crescent Junction, thirty miles away by rail - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)February 2014, the wells have extracted four hundred tons of ammonia and almost two tons of radioactive uranium. During low water periods, technicians inject fresh water into the wells in an attempt to maintain stasis between the two competing flows.

If the contaminated water and soil at the Moab Pile run deeper than current optimistic estimates, adding an additional 4.3 million tons to the excavation project is possible. If that turns out to be true, then the project is currently only one third complete, not the forty-one percent touted in recent DOE announcements. If scouring the Moab Wash watershed requires digging a huge hole where the waste tailings now stand, the entire character of the project might change.

By October 2010, DOE contractors were making progress in removing some of the sixteen million tons of hazardous and nuclear contaminated tailings from the Moab Pile - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Relying on the optimistic DOE projections, Moab and Grand County have created what they call a Community Vision Plan for the site. The Community Vision Plan, as currently formulated, includes a railroad station, transit center, bicycle and walking trails, a community park, federal offices, an ice rink, an event center and undetermined commercial uses.

Although the UMTRA site comprises 474 acres, 171 of those acres are in the floodplain. The contaminated tailings currently take up 104 acres. Highway and other easements remove 102 acres from potential development, as do twenty-nine additional acres of steep slopes. If the 104 acre Moab Pile becomes the new Moab Pit, that would leave 65 acres of developable land.

In May 2011, flooding along the Colorado River at Moab breached a low-lying section of nuclear and hazardous waste at the Moab Pile -  Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Despite local government resolutions to the contrary, the DOE is not obligated to cede even one acre of the UMTRA site to Grand County. With the uncertainties over long-term federal funding, the amount of remediation required and the tendency for such programs to balloon in both size and cost, alternatives to the “Community Myopia Plan” seem prudent.

As of 2014, we have at least eleven or more years until site remediation is completed. Even at that, there may be a 104-acre pit where the Moab Pile now stands. Assuming that 4.3 million tons of clean fill-dirt does not become available at the site, planners for the DOE, Moab and Grand County should include the potential for a new Moab Pit in their visionary plans.

In May 2011, the Colorado River is shown near the top of its banks at the Moab Pile. Within days, much of the flat area in this picture was inundated by floodwater - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)From the beginning of the UMTRA project, it was my contention that flood protection at the site should take precedence over removal of contaminated material. Ignoring my pleas and the paleoflood studies that substantiated them, DOE continued full speed ahead with their waste removal project. In the spring of 2011, DOE suffered public embarrassment when Colorado River floodwater penetrated part of the Moab Pile. After the 2011 flood, DOE took measures to lessen the potential for flooding at the site. Today, it still relies on simple pumping of groundwater through easily flooded wells to keep ammonia and uranium laden waste out of the Colorado River.

Upon final removal of the waste tailings, DOE has no announced plans for protecting the UMTRA site. Protection for the new Moab Pit and the proposed public amenities are absent from the clouded Visionary Plan, as well. Rather than rushing headlong to completion of waste removal, the DOE should shift In May 2013, a trip from Arches National Park to Moab allowed motorists to see part of the town over the diminishing Moab Pile - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)its focus to the long-term protection and potential uses of this unique recreational resource.

If left to the devices of nature, the new Moab Pit might fill itself with a mixture of contaminated groundwater and floodwater from the river. In order to prevent such an ecological disaster, DOE should create a cofferdam along the Colorado River. If properly constructed, the new cofferdam could hold back the river and allow complete removal of contaminated materials from behind the dam.

If architects of the cofferdam think ahead, they could design a floodgate into the structure. In 2029 or beyond, DOE could then transfer the UMTRA site to Grand County. Although I will be over eighty years old at the time, when the Moab Pit becomes the new 104-acre Grand County Marina, I hope to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony.


Previous Moab Pile articles, in chronological order, or see them all at MoabPile.com:

2009 - A Happy Ending for the Moab Pile?

2009 - Moab, Utah - The Potash Road

2011 - Moab Pile - Here Comes the Flood

2011 - Moab Pile - The Mill Tailings Train

2011 - Moab Pile - Countdown to Disaster

2011 - Nuclear Dust Storm Hits Moab, UT

2011 - Toxic Purple Dust Covers Moab, UT

2013 - The True Cost of Mineral Extraction

 


By James McGillis at 11:39 AM | | Comments (0) | Link


Chapter #313: Moab in Springtime - May 2014 - July 11, 2014


Interstate I-70 begins near historic Cove Fort, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Each Spring, I Hear The Call - And Then It's Moab Time

In May 2014, I departed Mesquite, Nevada, heading for Moab, Utah, 375 miles to the northeast. Normally, it is an easy trip north on Interstate I-15 and then East on I-70. At Crescent Junction, I would hit U.S. 191, and then head south toward Moab. According to Google Maps, the highway trip should take five hours and thirty minutes. Since I was pulling our Springdale travel trailer, I added two hours to the estimate.

At Cove Fort, Utah, I-70 East begins its climb into the Fish Lake National Forest - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Near its start at Cove Fort, Utah, I-70 traverses parts of both the Fish Lake National Forest and the Manti La Sal National Forest. Along that route, the mountain passes exceed 7,250 feet elevation. After transiting through both national forests, I-70 presents itself as a slow-motion rollercoaster ride. The culmination is a twisting descent down the east side of the San Rafael Swell.

Combined, my Nissan Titan truck and its trailer weigh 11,000 pounds. With a twenty percent horsepower-loss at 7,250 feet, the 5.6 liter V-8 in my pickup was averaging just over six miles per gallon. The only way to go faster was to downshift into second gear while ascending. At that throttle setting, the In May 2014, there was ample fresh snow in the Manti La Sal National Forest along I-70 - Click for a larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)engine runs at over 5,000 RPM, increasing both gasoline consumption and engine wear.

The only sensible solution was to slow down and not push my rig so hard. In doing so, I finessed the gears, rather than the power to keep my average speed above fifty-five miles per hour. Another consideration was the hundred-mile distance to the next service station, in Green River, Utah. In case of emergency, I carry several gallons of gasoline in an approved container. I rarely have to use my reserve fuel, but it offers peace of mind when I visit remote locations.

Once I reached Crescent Junction, I had only thirty-three miles to go on U.S. The Floy off-ramp, just west of Crescent Junction celebrates a settlement that disappeared without a trace in the early twentieth century - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Highway 191 South. In Moab, my final destination was the Moab Rim Campark, at the south end of town. Before I reached Moab, I had a brief side trip to take. On a railroad siding near the turnoff to Utah Highway 313, I hoped to locate an old friend. Like an old-time prospector’s affection for his burro, I had become fond of the Moab Burro.

Although it is not an animal, the Moab Burro is a fascinating example of twentieth century railroad construction equipment. Built by the Cullen Friestadt Company, the Moab Burro is a self-propelled railroad crane capable of pulling other rail cars, lifting 12,500 pounds and swiveling on its turret 360 degrees. On my previous visit, the Moab Burro lay idle and alone on a railroad siding of the Union Pacific Railroad Plush Kokopelli and Coney the Traffic Cone, looking for the missing Moab Burro at Seven Mile - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Potash Branch Line. In fact, the crane and its flatcar-tender had been on that siding for so long, Google Maps had snapped its picture from space.

That day, I was not so lucky. As I approached Seven Mile, I could see that both the Potash Branch Line and its siding lay deserted. Since the Moab Burro is a functioning piece of railroad maintenance-of-way equipment, Union Pacific Burro Crane No. BC-47 was probably elsewhere in the High Southwest. My hope of photographing Plush Kokopelli and Coney the Traffic Cone with the Moab Burro were dashed. Instead, I had to settle for pictures of my unlikely superheroes sitting on the empty track at Seven Mile.

The new U.S. Highway 191 Colorado River Bridge shows high water at Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)If any reader spots the Moab Burro elsewhere on the Union Pacific network, please take a photo and send it to me via email. If received here, I will then post any newly found images of Union Pacific BC-47, also known as the Moab Burro.

After leaving Seven Mile, I headed straight for Moab. While crossing the Colorado River, I noted that it was flowing higher than it had in the past few years. If the increased flow originated in a heavy snow pack on the Western Slope of the Colorado Rockies, that could be a good sign for Colorado River health. If the flow came from a rapid snowmelt upstream, it might be just a “flash in the pan”, soon to subside. As it turned out, 2014 would be a good water flow year in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

In May 2014, Lake Powell's Wahweap Marina, Near Page, Arizona lay far below its historical elevation - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)According to the USGS interactive website, on May 15, 2014, the Colorado River was flowing at about 10,000 cubic feet per minute (CFM) at Moab. By June 3, the river peaked at about 37,500 CFM, which was more than twice the sixty-three year average. Downstream, Lake Powell reached its 2014 low of 3574' elevation around April 15. By July 10, 2014, the lake was peaking at 3,609' elevation. That rise of thirty-five feet put the lake level ten feet higher than on the same date in 2013.

A six foot rise might not sound like much, but with Lake Powell's immense surface area, that represents almost an eight percent gain in water volume. As of July 10, 2014, the Lake Powell watershed had mixed statistics. The snow-pack was at forty-seven percent of normal and the total precipitation was at ninety-six percent of normal. A vigorous Monsoon in early July had Four identically prepared Shelby Cobra 289 sports cars head on to U.S. Hwy. 191 in Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)added greatly to the total precipitation. Still, the lower mass of the snow-pack suggested lower flows for the remainder of the year. 

Soon after passing over the Colorado River, I saw a rare sight in Moab. As I waited at the Highway 128 stoplight, four identical 1960’s Shelby Cobra 289 sports cars pulled on to U.S. 191. From my vantage point, I could not see if the Cobras were original or if they were among the ubiquitous replicas manufactured over the past forty years. After snapping a picture of each Cobra, I followed them toward Moab. Soon, they pulled off for an early dinner at the venerable Sunset Grill. I wondered how the stiff suspension of each Cobra would fare on the long, washboard driveway that leads up to the restaurant.

At the Moab Rim Campark a young couple poses in front of an RV graphic depicting the Yosemite Valley - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Soon, I arrived at the Moab Rim Campark, where I stay when in Moab. Owners Jim and Sue Farrell always offer old-fashioned Moab hospitality to all who stay there. As I pulled in to the RV Park, I noticed a young couple standing at the rear of their rental RV. Emblazoned across the stern of their RV was a high definition image of Yosemite Valley. With their permission, I took several photos of the couple and the Sierra Nevada scene. As I shot the photos, I zoomed-out to show that they were in Moab, not in Yosemite. To see the full scene, please click on their image.

Reflecting now on that meeting, I remembered that the young woman had looked up toward me and into the sun. She said, “I can’t see, so tell me when to smile”. Later, after examining the photos, I realized that the woman was A view of Moab's La Sal Range from the Moab Rim Campark - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)blind. In my experience, blind people often see more of our universe than many sighted people can. I only wish I could have explained to her the double meaning created by their standing in front of the Sierra Nevada Range and Moab’s La Sal Range, all at the same time.

For years, I have witnessed and studied various dimensional anomalies in and around Moab. To witness a young blind woman standing in two places simultaneously was an event on par with witnessing a plasma flow etched across the morning sky in Moab. Smiling about my good fortune to witness
such a sight that day, I realized that as of that moment, I was on Moab Time.

A large bird of prey seems to glide along the peaks of the La Sal Range at Moab, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Returning from Yosemite to the Moab of my contemporaneous three-dimensional time-space reality (3DTSR), I looked beyond the young couple to the snowfields of the La Sal Range. Fresh snow, which fell only a day before my May 15 arrival dusted the lower slopes of the great mountain range. The brilliance of white snow against the blue sky was spectacular. Looking at my photos later on, I realized that one shot captured an image of a large bird of prey, frozen in time within that infinite sky.

My first trip to Moab was in the summer of 1965. After leaving there, I assumed that it was a magical place, which I would never see again. Decades later, I read about the Moab Pile and its nuclear threat to life along the
At dusk, a full moon rises over the snow-capped peaks of the La Sal Range at Moab, Utah, May 2014 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Colorado River. Upon returning to Moab in the early 2000’s, all of the magic and many new threats to the environment came to me. With Big Oil, Big Gas, Big Potash and Big Tar Sands all ganging up on Moab and Grand County, the soul of that magical place might easily be lost.

During my current visit, I hoped to join others and sway Moab toward a more positive outcome.


 


By James McGillis at 04:59 PM | | Comments (0) | Link


Chapter #312: Old Mesquite, NV - Gone For Good - June 19, 2014


On Interstate I-15, Exit 120 leads to the town of Mesquite, Nevada - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Goodbye to Old Mesquite, Nevada - It Was Good To Know You

In 2009, I stopped in Mesquite, Nevada. While heading north out of town, I took photos of several old buildings and signs. A town’s architecture and graphics help reveal its history. A common theme involves a once flourishing business now closed. For example, when Interstate I-40 bypassed Seligman, Arizona, the attractions of Old-66 were barely enough to keep Old Seligman alive. With so little business activity generated after its bypass, Seligman froze in time. Therefore, many old buildings and signs in that town remained in situ.

On West Mesquite Blvd. in Old Mesquite, Nevada Harley's Garage stands frozen in time - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) In 1974, after the completion of Interstate I-15 through Mesquite, most new development came in the form of condominiums. The targeted customers were retired people or second-home owners. Today in North Mesquite, large new retirement complexes tend to focus the eye on human made water features, including a series of water-wasting golf courses. With such environmentally wasteful practices in effect, little if any summer-season water flowing in the Virgin River reaches its outlet at Lake Mead.

Prior to the construction of Mesquite's sprawling retirement communities, the same area represented only a small portion of a vast network of arroyos. Partially filled with wind-driven sand, the area was an "alluvial plain in the making". Most people do not think about “upstream” in the desert. Such terms matter only when a major flood hits such a dry area. When thunderstorms linger on nearby Mount Mormon, resulting floods carry enormous flows down those arroyos filled with sand. During, or shortly after an deluge upstream, watercourses shift, overwhelming their banks and inundating previously dry areas.

The Virgin River Gorge, Arizona, as seen in summer flood on July 26, 2013 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In the case of the recent condominium development in North Mesquite, everything will probably be OK. However, if we live to see the thousand-year flood, let alone the ten thousand-year flood, all of that could change. If either of those events happens, the ancient erosion field and slide zone that is North Mesquite shall not stand. In terms of proximate risk to property owners, safety and security may depend on one’s sense of time.

Mesquite, Nevada built its reputation on a firm foundation of gambling. Today, viewing it on Google Maps shows us that North Mesquite lies near the foot of a massive paleo flood zone. It does not take a trained geologist to see that ancient debris flows swept “downstream”, temporarily interrupting the Virgin River as it swept across the river and far up on the opposite bank. These desert sands appear to be the terminal deposition of ancient North Mesquite debris flows. It is there, on the east bank that buff colored desert sand intermingles with the dark, volcanic alluvium descending from Virgin Peak and Mount Bangs.

The prophetic word, "NO" is all that was left on the wall of the old Oasis Hotel Casino Resort when I took this picture in 2013 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)Today, such a flood would have to cross Interstate I-15 and West Mesquite Blvd., inundating most of Old Mesquite. In that scenario, all of Mesquite would remain in peril. The good news is that the ten thousand-year flood only comes every 10,000 years, or so they say. So what are the real odds? If enough people ask, the Casa Blanca Resort and Casino in Mesquite might make book on that question. I now remember my father’s sage advice, which was, “Never build anything in a flood plain”.

Although it lies only ninety miles from Las Vegas, Mesquite has closer ties to St. George, Utah, forty miles north on I-15. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, both Las Vegas and Mesquite were Mormon settlements. They were among a string of towns that grew up along the Old Spanish Trail, leading to Los Angeles. A common denominator among Mormon settlers and their current day counterparts is industriousness. If there is a potential for land development, the business community in Mesquite will soon take advantage of it.

Days before its demise, the old Oasis Hotel Resort Casino pole sign said its last farewell - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The years 2008 and 2009 represented the depths of the recent recession in Mesquite. Since then, there has been a steady, if slow economic recovery. New condominiums and businesses now present themselves, but current economic activity does not approach the breakneck pace of the early 2000’s. Now enthralled again by new development potential, protection of Mesquite’s historical buildings, signage and its highway heritage languish.

To be fair, most destruction or neglect of historical buildings and signage in Mesquite happens on private property. Even so, it appears that neither the city nor its business community sees value in saving the town’s historical qualities. For posterity, I shall document three examples of Old Mesquite at its finest.

When they tore it down, owners of the old Oasis Resort Casino in Mesquite, Nevada attempted to recycle as much of the building materials as possible - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)In 2013, the long defunct Oasis Hotel Casino and Resort disappeared from West Mesquite Boulevard. Around that time, the historical Oasis pole sign disappeared from its prior location near Interstate I-15. New visitors to Mesquite will never know that there once stood the biggest, fanciest and most successful casino resort in town. Other than an aging RV Park now operated by the Casa Blanca Resort Casino and an annex of hotel rooms now converted to timeshares, the Oasis is no more.

Farther east on West Mesquite Blvd. is what remains of Harley’s Garage. In 2009, a sign on the locked front door thanked customers for Harley’s sixty-two years in business. From Harley's graphical pole sign, which almost overhangs the highway; we know that Harley’s Garage once sold radiators and specialized in Ford automobiles. The aging Ford sign, which resides just above an image of a Ford Model-T style radiator, now turns to rust and eventually to dust. The classic “Ford” script, once painted brilliant red on blue, now appears as rust-red on pale blue. At its present rate of decay, full deterioration is only a few years away.

By 2009, Harley's Garage in Mesquite, Nevada had said goodbye to its loyal clientele of sixty-two years - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)I picture travelers on old U.S. Highway 91 in 1945, experiencing a breakdown near Mesquite, Nevada. No matter how the motorist arrived in Mesquite, Harley’s Garage was ready to replace or repair overstressed radiators, batteries or brakes. Now-outdated internet business listings indicate that Harley's once had a AAA towing franchise. With Las Vegas and St. George scores of miles away across a desert wasteland, we can imagine what a godsend Harley’s Garage and radiator repair shop must have been.

Historically, Mesquite was a ranching and farming community. Despite two historic floods that destroyed the economic vitality of Old Mesquite, several generations of Mesquiters continued to grow crops in the floodplain of the Virgin River. For their part, ranchers in nearby Bunkerville grazed their cattle on a once verdant, open range. Since Old Mesquite’s settlers banded together for sustenance and protection, they required a place to buy, sell and trade their produce and cattle.

The old hand-painted Ford Sign tops the tower at Harley's Garage, Mesquite, Nevada - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)On West Mesquite Blvd. stands a contemporary Ranch Market building. Despite looking relatively new and prosperous, by 2009 the Ranch Market stood closed for good. Looking inside, I could see display cases and shopping carts gathering dust behind the glass. Out back, on the same over-sized lot was an old pole barn, weathering and deteriorating in the sun. Later, I learned that the pole barn had once been the original Mesquite Ranch Market.

With a few rough sawn boards still clinging to the its roof, I tried to determine the age of the barn. “The better part of a century”, I thought. A long abandoned electrical service clung to one  of its corners. There were broken remnants of an overhead trolley, which once moved hay bales in and out of a now missing hayloft. With no remaining siding, doors, roof shingles or hayloft, only the cross-bracing of its beams keeps the pole barn from its inevitable destruction. In the past five years, an adjacent and a once mighty cottonwood tree has crumbled closer to the ground. With such rapid deterioration, how much longer the original Mesquite Ranch Market will stand is anyone's guess.

As seen in 2014, the old pole barn in Mesquite, Nevada that once was a thriving Ranch Market deteriorates into the desert sands - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)The desert environment, with its heat, sun and wind can destroy almost any human made object. Repainting and replacement are constant activities for thriving businesses in a desert economy. Keep it neat, keep it clean and tourists will stop. Let it go and the desert will soon remove the gloss of civilization. There stands North Mesquite, gleaming in the reflected light of its mini-lakes and golf courses. On the other side of town, more often than not, the desert is winning its inevitable, entropic race.

It is here that I say, so long to Old Mesquite. It was good to know you.

 

 


By James McGillis at 04:29 PM | Travel | Comments (0) | Link

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