Some Ute Tribal members seek to halt hatchery

Fort Duchesne, Utah (AP) 12-09

Some members of the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah are seeking to halt construction of a $6 million fish hatchery at Big Springs Creek.

Opponents have expressed concern over the project’s effect on what they consider sacred springs, and have called for mediation with the tribe’s Business Committee over its fate.

During a recent general membership meeting, 99 of the tribe’s 3,157 enrolled members voted to stop the project. Three people voted to continue construction.

Among other concerns, opponents contend spiritual leaders were not contacted to review the environmental assessment, and that the project interferes with religious beliefs and customs.

They claim construction crews have already removed pathways, trees and religious relics, including “bundles” that contain personal items of tribal members.

“We really don’t want to litigate this,” attorney Duane Moss, who represents opponents, told the Deseret News.

Business Committee Chairman Curtis Cesspooch said he’s more than willing to meet with the project’s opponents.

“The vote at the meeting has not been forgotten,” he said by e-mail.

Cesspooch said tribal members have had ample opportunity to provide input since the project was first proposed.

He also said he did not see religious objects or “bundles” near the area that could have been disturbed.

Cesspooch also dismissed opponents’ fears that use of water from Big Springs would eliminate water flow during drought periods.

“The water will be returned back to the stream once it goes through the fish hatchery,” he said.

An environmental assessment, completed in 2007, found that the project would have “no significant impact.”

State and federal agencies have worked for more than 12 years with the Business Committee to move the project forward.

Construction began in June, but work on an intake pipeline to divert water from the creek to the hatchery has been put on hold by a tribal court judge.

The Ute Tribal Court ruled that all formal requirements for the project had been met.

Last month, the court asked the parties to enter mediation within 30 days. Those talks have not yet been scheduled.