Jim StilesGrand Junction Free Press Opinion Columnist

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April 18, 2013
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STILES: Moab under seige

Last August I read that a proposed multi-million dollar Moab Transit Hub and Elevated River Bikeway is about to start construction. I'd heard very little about this plan, though I'd caught a snippet a couple years ago. The news story talked about a three-mile "bikeway" partially suspended over the Colorado River. There were references to piers and girders and cantilevers.Cantilevers? I stewed over the idea briefly, but ultimately decided it was yet another Utah-grown fantasy like Book Cliffs Highways and toxic waste incinerators. Eventually, I forgot about it. Then I read the announcement in the local papers. It's a done deal and by the time this story runs, construction may have already commenced.Promoters have insisted that its main purpose is "safety." Clashes between bicyclists and autos have been numerous over the years. But while the conflicts have almost become legendary, a strictly enforced 25 mph speed limit still seemed like a cheaper option.More telling was former Councilman Chris Baird's presentation to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert. Baird said, "For a long time we were the mecca for mountain biking, but about five years ago, we started seeing newspaper and magazine articles about Moab going stale."The Hub/Bikeway is clearly one of the biggest recreation infrastructure projects ever initiated in Grand County, meant to stimulate a declining tourist economy. Kim Schappert of Moab Trails Alliance and the driving force behind the project said in 2010, "It's all going to be a showpiece."But I'd heard few Moabites talk about it. Katie Stevens at the Moab BLM explained that, "Two EAs were done on this project - one was completed in 1999 and the other in 2004. There were no public comments on either EA." So while the idea of a "bike path" was never an issue for most residents, eight years after the public comment period came and went, some will be surprised to see what's coming or its scope.But it doesn't matter. Construction is underway and as one local environmentalist explained, "We have bigger issues here than bike paths; we have fracking and nuke plants. These are the big battles."Indeed, recent activism in Moab comes from a growing number of groups committed to stopping energy extraction on public lands. A proposed nuclear power plant at Green River, a proposed tar sand test site north of the Book Cliffs, and BLM plans to lease large tracts of public land south of Moab for oil and gas development have all made recent headlines. Opponents of energy development are a force to be reckoned with.Yet these same activists fall silent when the issue of consumption as the driving force behind energy production is raised. My favorite conservationist and writer, Wendell Berry, once wrote:"...this is what is wrong with the conservation movement. It has a clear conscience....To the conservation movement, it is only production that causes environmental degradation; the consumption that supports the production is rarely acknowledged to be at fault. The ideal of the run-of-the-mill conservationist is to impose restraints upon production without limiting consumption or burdening the consciences of consumers."A community whose economy and existence demands the massive consumption of energy, just to get the tourists to Moab, needs to understand how complicated this issue is.Imagine some non-motorized recreationists as they make their way to Moab. They board a flight in London or New York or Los Angeles or Atlanta and fly thousands of miles to Salt Lake City, or Denver, or Phoenix, or Las Vegas, where they rent a car and drive hundreds of miles to stay in one of Moab's many motels, so they can drive out to the Moab Transit Hub each day and ride their bicycles for 10 or 20 miles. This is NOT "non-motorized recreation," as proponents of the Hub/Bikeway claim.The energy to build and fuel the plane and the rental car, to build and power the motel, to build the bike and fabricate the plastic parts contained in ALL of these conveyances and structures comes from the extraction of oil. It comes by whatever means necessary to produce petroleum-based products and make a profit. Why are oil companies fracking every remotely conceivable source of oil and gas? It's called supply and demand. I don't need to be convinced that fracking is bad. It can be a disaster. My point is that Moab has pursued a tourist/amenities economy for 20 years. The most powerful "green" organization these days is the outdoor recreation industry and Utah enviros have gone along.If we're sincere about reducing carbon emissions and want to stop the onslaught of energy-expanding production, we have to acknowledge these hard truths. We can embrace alternative energies in part, but it's no real solution. Yet in Moab, where the promotion and encouragement of a consumptive amenities economy is presumed by many to be the town's only viable economic option, hard truths are getting harder to come by.Jim Stiles is publisher of the "Canyon Country Zephyr -- Planet Earth Edition." It ran for 20 years as a print publication and is now exclusively online. He is also the author of "Brave New West - Morphing Moab at the Speed of Greed." Both can be found at www.canyoncountryzephyr.com. Stiles lives in Monticello, Utah, and can be reached at cczephyr@gmail.com.


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The Post Independent Updated Apr 18, 2013 12:09PM Published Apr 18, 2013 12:05PM Copyright 2013 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.