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Front Page » September 12, 2006 » Local News » Meeting Discusses MK Tunnel Project, Receives Input from ...
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Meeting Discusses MK Tunnel Project, Receives Input from County Residents

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The main tunnel at the MK tunnel site will be closed with a recessed steel gate which will still allow visitors to peer in the entrance.

A public information meeting was held on the MK Tunnels on Aug. 29 in the Museum of the San Rafael in Castle Dale. The purpose of the meeting was to gather public comment on the proposed project at the MK Tunnels in the San Rafael Swell.

The MK Tunnels are the remnants of cold war testing in the Swell. The tunnels have remained virtually untouched in the 58 years since the blasts creating the tunnels took place. Vandals have added their names to the walls of the tunnels but they remain much the same as they did after the Department of Defense abandoned them in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

The Bureau of Land Management is the managing agency of the land on which the tunnels are located. The BLM contacted DOGMs abandoned mine reclamation department to have them draw up a proposal outlining the safe closure of the MK Tunnels.

The BLM hopes the proposal will make the tunnels safe for the public while still maintaining their historical importance.

Ray Petersen, public lands director for Emery County reported to the Emery County Commission on the discussion at the public hearing. "There were 30-35 people in attendance and there was a good discussion. Gary Reimer from the BLM was in attendance also. The concern from the public seemed to be if the tunnels have been there so long without injury why do anything?" Petersen commented that the tunnels will not be allowed to stay in their present state and action will be taken. The BLM has plans to mitigate what they feel is an unsafe situation.

The proposal states the main tunnel portal will be closed at the entrance. The county has requested a recessed entrance so people can still look into the opening and see the tunnel.

The other two tunnels will be backfilled to the top of the tunnel. The vertical drops will be eliminated. The surface indentations will remain. An intrepretive kiosk could be installed at the site of these tunnels explaining their use and how they came into existence.

Petersen said the proposal called for $5,000 to be set aside for interpretive kiosks and Petersen recommended the county request that more money be alloted for the interpretive kiosks to adequately represent the activities at that area. Petersen said the public lands council recommends the commission endorse the MK Tunnel proposal. He feels personally that if the proposal isn't accepted the BLM might just bulldoze the whole area to eliminate their liability at the sites.

Petersen hopes the BLM will install the interpretive kiosks and also a bathroom to make the area more attractive to visitors to the area.

Jan Petersen, director of the Museum of the San Rafael said they are asked by people all the time about sites they can visit that are just out of town and won't take long. She would hesitate to recommend the MK Tunnel sites to people now in their present state. She would encourage the work to take place to make the site safe and create a tourist spot with interpretive kiosks in place.

The vertical tunnels will be backfilled with only a small indentation left to ascertain where the tunnels were as well as interpretive kiosks.

The commission determined they would draft a letter of support to the BLM supporting the proposal.

Commissioner Ira Hatch said he feels it is very important to keep the history of the MK Tunnel area as intact as possible as the generation of county residents who were involved in the project and know the location of the sites is being lost due to old age. He wants to keep the history of the area alive.

Petersen said the usage on the Swell increases all the time and more visitors to the MK Tunnel site is to be expected.

Commissioner Drew Sitterud said it was his understanding that the work on the ground at the sites wouldn't start for two years. He also wanted the letter of support for the project to include the increased amount of funds for the interpretive panels and to also request the closing at the big tunnel be placed back as far as it can be safely done to allow people to enter safely and see the tunnel.

Jim Peacock attended the public hearing and said he was involved in the construction of the tunnels. He remembers after the blast they were in cleaning up the rock when an Emery County gullywasher came through and swept one man away and he was drowned.

Mark Mesch from DOGM said no action will be taken with the powder magazine. The vertical openings will be covered with welded rebar grate. The horizontal openings will be a recessed concrete wall. In the main tunnel a steel gate will be installed. The three vertical openings will see welded steel grates placed over them. The fencing in the areas will be replaced as most of it is now gone.

DOGM is hoping to maintain the same character of the area while eliminating the safety hazards. More public meetings will be held in the future and the process is far from over with many steps and issues left to be considered.

It was brought out in the meeting that mostly locals visit the area as tourists aren't aware of its existence. The site hasn't had any maintenance for several years.

Kent Petersen, former county commissioner said, "It would be nice if it could stay the way it is, but nowadays we know for safety issues, it can't."

Peacock said, "I agree about the history of this site, Other sites have been reclaimed and are safe, but still historic sites. I would like to see kiosks there explaining what went on during the cold war.

Those involved at the meeting all agreed that more funds needed to be allocated for the interpretive work at the site.

Mark H. Williams showed slides of the area and explained some of the history.

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