BLM opens Investigation about Surface Damage to Fragile Bonneville Salt Flats Surface
On Tuesday, July 26, 2016 Utah Alliance Media Contact and Save the Salt Coalition Public Information Officer Louise Ann Noeth was given a tour of the Bonneville Salt Flats track conditions by Land Speed Events founder Mike Cook.
It was gratifying to see that the salt crust – although still thin - had certainly grown in diameter since September 2015 when exposed mud was the norm in the northern course locations – where speed machines can easily still be at terminal velocities.
Stepping out at several points along Cook’s finely groomed International track, it was tough to dislodge any measure of halite despite some righteous “salt kicking.”
There is solid evidence the salt is hardening up nicely, but the crust needs more time and respect to thicken into a safe surface that can support hundreds of speed machines hurtling across it with pent-up gusto.
However, the biggest danger racers may face is the incredible, miles-long wanton salt crust damage caused by the local Wendover, Utah towing service that now uses a snowcat to extract vehicles that become mired down in mud on the flats.
This “snowcat” is a truck-sized, fully tracked vehicle designed to move on snow. The hard-rubber tracks are fitted with a dozens of steel “grousers”, or blades driven by a single sprocket on each side that rides over rubber wheels.
Made to cut through deep snow, on the fragile Bonneville Salt Flats, the towing service snowcat savages the surface ripping up the salt crust and cutting into the mud below.
On this day tracks were clearly seen arcing more than a mile into the horizon as they crossed Cook’s already groomed and prepared international track requiring 2.5 hours to repair the damage by patching and packing the surface.
Noeth photographed the damage and immediately telephoned BLM’s Filed Manager Matt Preston in the Salt Lake City office to report the damage to the public land soon to be filled with recreational users.
Preston responded that BLM’s law enforcement division was notified to look into the matter. On Wednesday, West Desert District Manager Kevin Oliver telephoned Noeth to report an investigation had been opened.
Noeth informed Oliver that this damage could easily contribute to destabilizing control of a speed machine and the motorcycles were particularly susceptible. If the damage was not repaired, injury to recreational users could be exacerbated.
On Friday, July 29th, BLM Officer Stephenson telephoned Noeth that an officer had been dispatched to the salts flats for an on-site investigation, that the towing company had been identified as had been the driver of the snowcat causing the damage.
Additionally, the BLM said it is taking immediate steps to have the damage repaired.
To be absolutely clear, this damage DID NOT contribute to famed and admired land speed racer Sam Wheeler’s fatal accident on Monday, July 26th, , but WAS the underlying motivation for notifying the BLM about the damage to public lands and the danger to land speed recreational users.