By Lyle Hillyard
Utah State Senator, District 25
I thought I might share a handful of impressions from last week’s Legislative Site Visit to the Uintah Basin.
We drove to the basin on Sunday afternoon (we got an early start on the five hour drive from Logan to Vernal as the events were to begin Monday at 10 a.m.). We stopped in Roosevelt to eat and found the restaurant busy with young couples and lots of children. They did not look like the locals I would have expected to see in my home town. I believe most were recent move-ins connected with the oil boom and would be a welcome addition to the area.
Because many of the recent move-ins are connected with the oil boom, the Basin will be faced with some unique challenges, especially in education. These families may have had to move around to find these tough but high paying jobs. That means a significant percentage of new families probably will not be seeking permanent housing. I was told that the motels are full due to the people who are moving in for the oil boom. Their children may have attended their last school for a short amount of time and may only be entering their new school on a temporary basis. This presents a challenge to the public schools in the Basin. We need to be sure that these children are given the special attention they need and deserve so that they are properly educated.
It was close to sunset as we drove from Roosevelt to Vernal and there were rain clouds to the east. I saw one of the most spectacular rainbows in size and color that I can remember seeing. We arrived in Vernal and enjoyed the main street with its huge containers full of flowers. A truck was driving along them with flasher lights watering each container. A city that makes the effort to create such beauty along their main street shows a lot of pride. I wished every city that was a gateway to the state made such effort. It began our visit on a very positive note.
I was disappointed to learn that all the oil produced in the Basin has to be taken to North Salt Lake to be refined. Even then, the refinery capacity is not large enough to handle all the oil that is being produced. The environmental issues are so heavy that no new refinery has been built in America in 30 years and none are planned for construction. No wonder we are so dependent on oil produced in other countries. I was concerned for the people in the area to see the large number of huge oil tankers that drive from the Basin along Highway 40 down Parley’s Canyon to North Salt Lake. These are federal issues, but the State should be doing what we can to correct that problem.
Early Monday morning I took a walk along Main Street. I noticed that almost every fast food place had "Help Wanted"” signs out in front. I also learned that the enrollment at the Uintah Basin USU branch and the ATC has not grown with students just out of high school, as they expected. High school graduates are not seeking higher education because they can get oil production jobs and make $18 to $20 per hour. Many of their parents experienced the oil boom during the late 70’s and did the same thing. They found out that not furthering their education was a bad decision, long term, so many of the parents are coming back and filling the classes in the evening. These schools are doing a good job at making classes available when the people can take them.
I thought it was curious that at the public meeting we held in Vernal on Monday night, not one question was asked about public or higher education.
I was overwhelmed by the people there and their willingness to make us feel welcome, while showing the challenges they face. Elected officials were committed to serve the people and help solve the challenges they are given. They have to cope with the increased interest in the natural resources due to the increase in the value of oil. They take great pride in the area where they live, want to retain the good, and help adjust to the changes that are coming. We couldn’t have asked for better hosts.
Rep. John Mathis and Rep. Gordon Snow together with Sen. Beverly Evans did a great job putting the program together. We all will miss Sen. Evans who has chosen not to seek re-election. She has worked very hard to represent not only her District or the Basin but the whole state. She should feel a great deal of satisfaction with the long-lasting impact she has had on our state.