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PROTESTER CHAINS SELF TO BACKHOE

A Park City resident who chained himself to a backhoe in the middle of a muddy Summit County meadow to protest construction of a Kmart store was arrested for trespassing this morning.

Summit County Sheriff Fred Eley read Todd Gabler his rights, someone cut the chain and deputies drove Gabler to jail in Coalville, where friends were waiting to post bail.It all went according to plan.

"The premise here is that all reasonable alternatives have been exhausted," said Gabler, whose protest vigil started in a freezing rain about 3 a.m. Friday. "There is an imminent threat to the meadow and to the citizens of the county. By my actions, I hope to stop an irreversible harm."

Gabler, a 27-year-old broadcast consultant, promised during an unsuccesful election bid for the Park City Council to do all he could to stop the Kmart construction at Kimball Junction.

The time to make good on his promise came this week, when excavation in the open meadow resumed.

Gabler said he went to the construction site about 3 a.m. Friday. "It was still raining pretty hard then," he said. "I was cuddled up under the machine here."

By about 5 a.m., Gabler crawled up onto the machine's shovel and chained and padlocked himself to the cold, cold steel, where he sat for four hours awaiting his arrest. Well-wishers brought him blankets and coffee or honked as they drove by.

Gabler said he acted on his own. "I'm a member of no association. I have no slogans and no leaders."

He said he and others are protesting what they say is uncontrolled development in the Snyderville Basin area flanking Park City. The meadow's stark beauty was sufficient reason for preservation, he said.

"It's a meadow. It doesn't have to be special. It doesn't have to have endangered species," he said. "What's special about it is you can drive by and there's nothing here. You can go to Salt Lake and be crowded by concrete structures every day."

Gabler has planned his day in court, where he will argue what he called a "defense of necessity," similar to the type of arguments offered by those arrested during protests at nuclear power plants in the East.

An association of area residents shares Gabler's feeling about the Kmart development. The Snyderville Basin Community Association last year appealed the developer's building permit to the County Commission, and then went to court when the appeal failed.

The association backed off when the developer countersued, and named three association members in the suit. The three decided they had too much to lose personally, and the suit was dropped, said Ruth Wagner, the association's attorney.

Wagner arrived at the construction site around 6 a.m. to give Gabler moral support. "I've got to give him a lot of credit to sit on top of that cold crane on a morning like this," she said. "It's an act of civil disobedience. And other acts of disobedience have worked in the past."

The Snyderville Basin Community Association's members aren't necessarily anti-growth, Wagner said. "We know that growth is going to happen here. But we feel it should be controlled."

Snyderville Basin is facing a growth boom as urban development moves east from the Salt Lake Valley. A recent study by students from Harvard and Utah State University students predicted a 400 percent population increase over the next 25 years.

Three other major projects - a motel, an auto dealership and a Wal-Mart store - are planned for Kimball Junction. An outlet store center opened at Kimball Junction late last year.

Wagner said the Kmart's size - the 109,000-square-foot store will have a parking lot big enough to hold 800 cars - will create problems for the area.

"The traffic is going to be horrendous at a junction that is so close to a freeway intersection," she said. "They claim it's going to be different than any other Kmart. But there are not going to be trees in the middle of an 800-car parking lot."