My View
UMTRA for the Fish; Arches for the People

We have decided not to pursue the UMTRA site for an Arches National Park transportation hub. I almost can’t believe it myself. The moral of the story is: never be fixed in your thoughts or opinions, know that you can always learn more, and keep asking questions.

How did this come about? After last weeks UMTRA meeting the representative from the State of Utah Department of Natural Resources said he would like to talk with me. So I had a long meeting with the staff of the DNR and learned a lot about the Colorado River and the bend in the river where the UMTRA site and Matheson Wetlands Preserve coexist.

I then reached out to the Army Corps of Engineers and the program manager of the preserve.

Bottom line, it appears to me that the best use of the UMTRA site, once the U.S. Department of Energy removes all contaminants, might be to return it to its natural state. This might in fact create a healthier environment across the river in the preserve, creating a more viable spawning ground.

While the UMTRA site is an ideal location for a transportation hub, midway between the entrance to Arches National Park and Moab, we can find another site further north on U.S. Route 191 … the fish cannot.

The other moral of the story is: never assume anything. Jennifer Spears, a local land conservation buyer, is currently raising her parcel along Courthouse Wash six feet above the flood plain, so I assumed it was a good idea for the UMTRA parcel as well. Now I realize that maybe it’s not a good idea for either parcel.

I assumed that the UMTRA Site Futures Committee had definitive information from the DOE and the Army Corps of Engineers on the final status of the site. The committee assumed that the land where the main tailings pile is located would still be above the flood plain when the remediation is complete. Is this true? I don’t know. From all the information I have learned, especially regarding underground contamination, I would imagine that the entire tailings pile will be gone and the vast majority of the site will be in the flood plain.

Which brings up the question: what was the original, natural state of the UMTRA site? I am very curious but still don’t have a clear answer. Personally, I need to learn a lot more, but right now I would prefer to have a fluvial geomorphologist tell us what he or she thinks.

The Arches transportation hub can locate further north on U.S. Route 191 near Willow Springs Road, and the shuttles and bikes can enter the Park there. Our goal is for 75 percent of all Arches National Park visitors to enter on shuttles or bikes. That would be great. It will also be a lot easier to get built sooner, as the prospective land belongs to SITLA, which has a mandate to monetize their holdings for the benefit of the schools.

There you have it. Let’s stay focused on creating the best possible visitor experience at Arches National Park. Our first step is to form the Moab Transit Authority as the Grand County organization that can look at solutions from a broad perspective and bring everyone together.

Michael Liss is a Moab-based real estate developer and businessman. He is the principal of the Arches for the People organization.

ByBy Michael Liss