July 2009 Update

The Environmental Assessment (EA) is due out this summer, perhaps by the end of July. San Juan County (SJC) is still seeking to pave the road by introducing a proposed action that stops the paving 4.4 miles before the canyon. Numerous critiques and unanswered questions have been posed by the New Mexico Sate Historic Preservation Officer (NMSHPO), the Hopi, Chaco Culture National Historical Park (CCNHP), the San Juan Citizens Alliance, the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance, and the Chaco Alliance. Central to many of the objections are the following points:
  1. There are simply no significant statistics to support the “hazardous” road argument presented by San Juan County, no fatalities except on roads that have already been paved, and too few local residents to justify the increased visitation threat to a World Heritage Site. A 2005 NPS study indicates negative impacts to Chaco infrastructure, sites, staffing, and the quality of the visitor’s experience if the road is paved. A five-fold increase in visitation is possible. San Juan County refuses to compromise by doing regular maintenance, and adding signs, fencing, gravel, etc.
  2. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has allowed SJC and its consultants, URS Corporation and Parametrix, to manage and control the application of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) procedure, and the result has been the waste of over $400,000 of taxpayer money to produce two studies that have been highly challenged by the New Mexico State Preservation Officer (NMSHPO), CCNHP, the Hopi, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Chaco Alliance, and others. No adequate or un-biased EA has been produced after over two years of study and expense. The questions from the NMSHPO, Hopi, CCNHP and others remain without adequate answers.
  3. Newly-elected New Mexico Senator Tom Udall has not provided the oversight and guidance that could protect a World Heritage Site. As a member of the Congress in 2005, then Representative Udall earmarked the $800,000 for improvements to the Chaco road. He was either misled or ill-informed, but the project would have been granted a Categorical Exclusion by the Federal Highway Administration and gone forward without any impact studies if our group and others had not intervened. Tom Udall was made aware of the problems and the plight of Chaco as early as August 2006, but he has done little to help. His new staff in Washington needs to become aware of the complexity of the project, and aware of the many emails and letters Tom has received about this ill-starred venture. A phone call from Tom could easily direct SJC toward improvements like fencing, gravel, and maintenance, and away from its obsession with paving. Please write to Senator Udall and urge him to commit to improvements, not paving. Tell him that no more money should be granted for this project, and that a complete audit of the money already spent is necessary.
  4. Federal and state laws may have been broken in the initial and current phase of San Juan County’s attempt to pave as many miles of the Chaco road (CR7950) as possible. We continue to investigate charges that the NMSHPO was not consulted as required by state law on the chip sealing of the first three miles. She may also have lacked proper consultation in the NEPA/NHPA process that covers the additional 13 miles. In addition, there are charges that the New Mexico Department of Transportation insured the Hopi and the Zuni that all applicable laws would be adhered to in the chip-sealing of the first three miles, and then failed to require San Juan County to consult with them or any of the tribes that claim cultural affiliation with Chaco as required by an Executive Order from the Governor. Lack of proper consultation continues to be a possible avenue of concern in the NHPA Cultural Resources Survey released in May 2009, as do questions pertaining to improper procedure, inaccurate documentation, conflict of interest, and segmentation. Still unanswered is the question of why this study has remained an EA instead of the more exhaustive Environmental Impact Study (EIS) since the threshold requirement of significant controversy has clearly already been met.

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