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Congress has Utah funding on agenda

Senate debating if $240 million will flow to state

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WASHINGTON — More than $240 million for Utah projects that hung in limbo after Congress adjourned last year is now finally being considered by the full Senate.

The money is included in a massive omnibus spending bill, which combines 11 of the 13 annual appropriations bills that Congress must pass each year.

Last year, Congress only managed to pass two of those 13 bills, for defense and military construction. Stalemates before last year's election on the 11 other bills led Congress to pass stopgap bills to continue current levels of funding until next month, when Congress finally hopes to pass the rest of the long-delayed spending bills.

The Senate brought up the combined package and began debate on it Friday. Leaders hope to pass it next week and send it to the House.

The Utah bills in that big package range from funding extension of the TRAX light rail to building a new visitors center at Arches National Park and helping to remove dangerous uranium mill tailings near Moab.

Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, the only member from Utah who is on an appropriations committee, has posted a complete list of affected Utah projects on his Web site at bennett.senate.gov.

Some of the highlights include:

$76.6 million to extend the TRAX line to the University of Utah Medical Center, already under way.

"The incredible success of TRAX, combined with the increasing congestion at the U., only reinforce the need for this extension," Bennett said.

$5.4 million for a new visitors center at Arches National Park, which Bennett said, "will greatly enhance the experience of the park visitors, 750,000 of which traveled to Arches last year."

$10.6 million to begin construction of a new federal courthouse in Salt Lake City. Bennett said, "These funds will help jump-start the courthouse project. The current building is hampered by age and size and cannot accommodate the rapidly growing needs of the courts."

$3.9 million to help clean up the Atlas uranium mill tailings near Moab. The Energy Department is finalizing studies on options of how best to do that. The tailings are leaching radioactive materials into the adjacent Colorado River. "The Department of Energy is making progress in its efforts to move the Atlas tailings," Bennett said. "While much work lies ahead, I remain supportive of the expeditious clean-up of this site."

$970,000 to help Sevier, Wayne and Sanpete counties buy equipment to detect methamphetamine labs. "Regrettably, meth use in Utah is among the highest in the nation," Bennett said. "These funds are essential if we are to combat its extraordinarily damaging effects."

$2.4 million for a new water pipeline in Monticello. "This new pipeline will help ease water shortages in San Juan County, shortages which have only been exacerbated by recent drought conditions," Bennett said.

$1.26 million for a Sevier County Multi-Events Center. It would match $19 million in local funds to build the 5,000-seat facility.


E-mail: lee@desnews.com