Brian Maffly – The Salt Lake Tribune
Following a heated Grand County Council meeting Tuesday, council members voted to join other counties that are pooling their clout to amass funding for a highway to haul crude oil and other development seen as vital to the economic future of eastern Utah.
The council, in voting 6 to 1 to join the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition, overruled intense opposition from Moab and Castle Valley residents.
Critics see the move as an unwise and rushed marriage to counties bent on promoting fossil energy, even at the expense of the region’s red rock beauty that draws tourists and outdoor adventurers to the canyon country carved out by the Green and Colorado rivers.
The issue has divided the community whose past is rooted in extraction but now harbors one of the nation’s great recreation meccas.
Opponents packed the meeting room Tuesday night, sitting on the floor and crowding the hallway.
Many insisted the council wait until after the Nov. 4 election to make a decision, since coalition membership is a defining issue in all three council races.
But outgoing council member Gene Ciarus insisted membership was critical to influencing the new coalition’s direction.
“Do we want to thrive and grow, or do we want to perish?” he asked.
Critics, including council candidates Chris Baird and Mary McGann, argued the coalition appears most interested in subsidizing oil and gas development. (…)