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Residents are divided over what may be the community's most controversial proposal in years - a proposed chairlift to carry tourists to the top of a cliff overlooking the city.

City Council member Paul Seibert says that each morning when he stops for coffee at Dave's Corner Market, he is "hammered on" by residents."There are some who are really upset," says Seibert, a carpenter and construction worker. "It's highly controversial. It's something that would be right out their back doors."

Seibert hasn't made up his mind. "As a carpenter, I feel the more development the better. But I also favor protection of the land. My job is to try to sift through all that and listen to the will of the peo-ple."

Moab resident Emmett Mays wants to build a 2,200-foot-long chairlift on private land beginning near where the Kane Creek Road enters the Colorado River canyon. The lift would boost visitors to the top of the "south portal" - part of the red cliff that forms the western wall of Spanish Valley.

At the top would be a snack bar and gift shop, an amphitheater for 300 people and hiking trails along the rim overlooking Moab, 900 feet below. Cost of the proposed project is more than $1 million.

"We believe it will be pleasing to most of the people in the Moab area and actually become a source of community pride," said Mays, a retired manager of the Contel telephone company.

"It won't be ugly," he said. The lift would be painted the same color as the surrounding rock and the upper section would run through a narrow chute in the cliff that would hide it from most residents in Moab, he said.

All buildings would be out of view from the valley.

However, lights at the amphitheater would create a nighttime glow atop the cliff, and residents might occasionally hear the amplified sounds of melodramas, musicals and cowboy poetry.

The development would take place on 160 acres that Mays purchased about 18 years ago. He needs no federal permits or environmental impact statements to build the project, and meets all the zoning requirements of Grand County.

However, Moab decided recently to annex the land and the city is preparing a sensitive-lands ordinance that could limit development on ridge tops.

Jim Stiles, publisher of the Zephyr, an alternative Moab newspaper, said Mays' proposal has generated more controversy than any issue since the 1988 plan to build a hazardous-waste incinerator in Cisco. If the City Council approves the lift, opponents may push for a public vote on the issue, he said.

Resident Bob Hawks supports the lift, arguing that last-minute objections from environmentalists should not be allowed to block a project Mays has spent almost two decades developing.