Commission addresses cancer screening, road plans, and wildfire

The San Juan County Commission requested federal support for cancer screening of mills tailings victims, approved a Spanish Valley transportation plan, and focused on wildfire preparations on April 20.

The Commission also heard an update on wildfire conditions from the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

Southeast Area Fire Management Officer Rudy Sanoval reports that drought conditions point to another potentially dangerous fire season with possible early fire restrictions.

“We’ve already experienced several red flag days,” said Sandoval. “We have three human caused fires and one vehicle fire in San Juan County in 2021.”

Southeast Area Manager Jason Johnson reported on issues that impact firefighting in the area. Funding for preventative projects on the Mill Creek and Pack Creek watersheds are prioritized for this year. The collaborative projects are funded by the State of Utah and the US Forest Service.

Additionally, Johnson reports that a legislative bill appropriated funds to update technology platforms for firefighting, as well as to increase pay for firefighters in the state.

Another bill appropriated funds to hire attorneys for wildfire cost recovery. Previous efforts to collect damages from those who cause human fires has had mixed results. The aim of the bill is to strengthen efforts to collect from those responsible to help cover the costs of wildfires.

“We’re moving forward to collect on two fires from last year, the Alkali Ridge fire and Doe Canyon fire near La Sal.” Johnson said.

Commissioner Willie Grayeyes asked Johnson about what protection the state can offer for lands on the Utah portion of the Navajo Nation, including Navajo Mountain.

Johnson explained if a wildfire were to occur on Navajo Mountain, the state “wouldn’t self-dispatch because that’s not our jurisdiction. If the dispatch center that is there requests us, then we would honor that request.”

Wildfires in the Navajo Nation fall under the jurisdiction of the Navajo Region of the Bureau of Indian Affairs Wildland Fire Management.

Also at the meeting, County Administrator Mack McDonald presented a letter to the commission regarding the victims of mills tailings exposure cancer screening program.

More than 700 cancer cases are associated with those who lived or worked in Monticello from 1942 to 2000.

McDonald explained that before the county separated from the Southeast Utah Health District, those who had lived or worked in Monticello during that time were able to access free cancer screenings.

The screenings still exist through Utah Navajo Health Systems, but due to a lapse in application, the program has not been made available through San Juan Public Health.

McDonald explained the county is working with the staff of Congressman John Curtis to re-establish and fund the program. 

The county reports more than 950 clients have registered and qualified for preventative screenings. Since 2009, more than 10 percent have been diagnosed with cancer.

Re-establishing the funds could help administer the program and could possibly mean additional county employees, as well as additional services such as outreach about the program and offering rides to Senior citizens for free cancer screenings.

The commission voted unanimously to approve the letter of support for the return of the program.

The commission also unanimously supports the Moab and Spanish Valley Regional Transportation Plan.

Stakeholders – including San Juan County, Grand County, Moab City, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), and others – participated in the plan, which maps out future transportation projects through 2050.

One project identified in the plan are frontage roads along Highway 191 in Spanish Valley.

In an interview with Red Rock 92.7, UDOT Region 4 Planning Manager Jeff Sanders explained the frontage road would address the issues of numerous accesses and driveways along Highway 191 in Spanish Valley.

“You have a lot of vehicles that are slowing down to turn into a driveway or they turn from onto the road and have to hit the gas and accelerate to 60 mph otherwise they’ve got a big semi-truck behind them,” said Sanders.

“What we think a good solution is to preserve that highway for through traffic and do that by having some frontage roads on both sides of the highway. That would keep existing accesses for businesses and homes, but also keep 191 for through traffic.”

The plan would include some intersections that connect the frontage road to Highway 191. That could mean future installation of stop lights along Highway 191 intersections with the Old Spanish Trail Arena, Spanish Trail Road, and Mill Creek Drive, as well as other intersections.

The estimated project cost is $112 million. The two phases are planned to be completed by 2040, although Sanders mentioned UDOT is looking at the project closely and it could be completed sooner.

Another proposal from the plan includes an intercity bus service from Blanding to Salt Lake City. Sanders says UDOT is currently evaluating proposals from several different bus providers with a possible contract finalized in several months. 

A trail system in Spanish Valley and other projects are part of the proposal. You can read the draft online at https://arcg.is/TOvSP.

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