Tribes protest FrontRunner project.

DRAPER — Native American tribal leaders and environmentalists Thursday called the Utah Transit Authority "disrespectful" for its construction work on land that could contain 3,000-year-old artifacts.

"We are begging state and federal agencies to follow the law," said Zach Frankel of the Utah Rivers Council at a downtown Salt Lake news conference about construction of FrontRunner South Commuter Rail. "We'd love to not have to go to the media. We'd like to sit down with UTA."

UTA defended itself with its own news conference later in the day on the construction site that runs from 12800 South to 13000 South near the Union Pacific track. Officials said UTA is following the law, and requirements of communication with tribes only kick in when UTA discovers an artifact, which hasn't happened yet.

"We have an archaeologist who follows the construction work on staff, who observes whatever we do along the project," said Jon Cluff, UTA's deputy project manager on the site.

At issue is the construction of FrontRunner and a future station near 12800 South that will open, not when FrontRunner South opens but when the area's population is larger.

At 13000 South, about 3,000 feet to the south of the future station, UTA crews began construction of the rail bed, which will run adjacent to existing Union Pacific tracks. Last fall, crews tossed topsoil on land environmentalists and tribal leaders say does not belong to UTA, but to the state.

UTA thought it owned the land and that it came with the purchase of Union Pacific property in 2002. But UTA halted work after receiving a February letter from the executive director of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands and has agreed to hire a surveyor to determine the exact property line.

If the land turns out to be state-owned, UTA would coordinate with the state and the tribes to clean up the land, UTA spokesman Brandon Bott said.

But for tribes represented at the earlier press conference — Ute, Goshute, Paiute and Shoshone — the concern about who owns the land is secondary to the worry that artifacts, or even human remains, could be buried on it.

The state archaeologist has found 30,000 artifacts on 250 acres near 13500 South, which is land that UTA originally eyed for the future station but since has become a conservation easement as part of a deal UTA struck with environmentalists, Native Americans and the state. At the 13500 South site, there's evidence that ancient people farmed corn, which challenges current archaeological belief that North American farming didn't begin for another 1,000 years.

By Laura Hancock

Deseret News


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