Southern Utah News Articles
Top Stories for June 23, 2010
A tale of two sides of the mountain
The Zion National Park switchbacks road, one that was nearly 80 years old and leading up to the tunnel, needed work. Improvements had to be done in the summer, for asphalt application dictated that air temperatures be higher. Most everyone agreed on that. Stimulus monies were secured.
On a bid let out by the park, A-T Asphalt of St. George got the nod. Safety was a primary concern. It was a dangerous road and a had lots of traffic.
But local businesses, specifically on the east side, felt like the closure notice had been seriously lacking, and they were suffering extreme financial loss due to the seven hour construction delays.
Zion National Park Superintendent Jock Whitworth said he sent park employees out to inform businesses on the east side of the road closures that would drastically affect their summer time business. A meeting was held in Springdale to address concerns.
Mediator Mary Orton ran the June 17 meeting at Zion National Park. East side business owners said they weren’t given any kind of ‘heads up’ on the issue, and that the closures were threatening their very existence. They needed a remedy...now.
Senator Dennis Stowell, Representative Mike Noel, Governor Herbert’s representatives from economic and travel departments, Kane County Commissioners Heaton and Hulet, Kanab City Chamber President Kelly Stowell, Kanab City Mayor Nina Laycook and a host of business owners all attended to express their anger at how the road project has been handled.
“I represent both sides of Zion,” said Senator Stowell. “I asked for this meeting. We don’t want stimulus money that de-stimulates business.”
“All businesses are impacted,” said Noel. He challenged park officials on whether they had gone through proper economic impact assessments. He pledged that if a remedy was not forthcoming, an injunction against the project would be filed.
Utah State Planning Coordinator Mike Mower said Governor Herbert was concerned. He said the state never wants to benefit one part of the economy, only to hurt another.
State Tourism Director Leigh Von Der Esch said they certainly wanted to help, and perception was everything. She offered that advertising should be offered to promote and encourage people to this area.
Moqui Cave owner Lex Chamberlain said he learned in April of a road closure that would last two to three hours a day. It was amended once before to 9 a.m.-4 p.m. five days a week. “This is horrible,” said Chamberlain. “We’re down 30%. Let’s get a contractor to do the work at night. If not, get another contractor.”
Zion Mountain Resort Manager Kevin McClaws said while they’ve always supported the project, they’ve been hard hit. “We’ve been seriously impacted this spring. We’ve been able to track $3800 of cancellations on lodging just in the last four days.” He noted that number was only phone cancellations, and not on the Internet.
Grant Ramsay said no one from the park had visited his family’s business, the White Mountain Trading Post. He said their business had taken a 50% hit in the past week. (That coming after the Ramsay family had invested over one half million dollars in renovations this past winter.)
Emily Hollingshead, daughter of Paul and Susan Bingham, who own and operate the reknowned Maynard Dixon Gallery in Mt. Carmel, spoke on behalf of her parents. She said her family and the business were taking a serious hit by the closure. She encouraged park officials and the road construction company to rethink their plans. She said that summer revenue at the property was crucial, and that the project was harming them. “It’s a huge economic development issue. It’s important to our family and the community,” said Hollingshead.
“We believe the project can and should be done during later hours,” stressed Geno Ramsay, White Mountain Trading Post.
Jane Jennings, from the Arrowhead Country Inn in Mt. Carmel, said they already laid of six employees. “The reservations just stopped.”
“We need to open the road up,” said Terry Griffiths
Kane County Deputy and City Councilman Brian Harris encouraged the park to be more sensitive to local businesses, and do more work on off hours. “There aren’t many cars out at night,” said Harris.
State Representative Mike Noel charged that the park hadn’t done what it was supposed to do, and that there had been a serious disconnect. “People here were not notified,” said Noel.
Commissioner Doug Heaton said the economic devastation was basically equivalent to the oil spill in the Gulf. Commissioner Daniel Hulet, a private business owner that has been affected as well, said that tourism businesses were being hurt terribly, and the issue needed to get resolved.
Zion Park Superintendent Jock Whitworth explained when the project had been discussed, funding and safety issues were of primary concern. He expressed his belief that getting it done quicker was better for everyone. He defended what the park had done, both in notification and choice, but pledged upon hearing the real concerns expressed, there would be a new decision on the road issued by Monday, June 21.
According to a Zion press release e-mailed late Monday, effective June 27 through October 28, the new hours of closures will be from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m., Sunday through Thursday. Fridays, Saturdays and holidays will remain open 24 hours.