The conquest of Guanella Pass

by Prof. Al Bartlett

This letter to the Editor was published in the Colorado Daily on August 25, 1999.

Thanks for your interesting story (August 20, 1999) on the Federal plan that proposes to pave the gravel road over Guanella Pass. The story quoted the Feds as claiming that the road "needs to be 'improved' in order to accomodate growing traffic volumes." The story notes that the proposed improvements in the road are "much to the displeasure of many area residents," and it quotes one affected resident as saying:

"The highway administration is completely ignoring the will of the public."

"It appears as if they're going to pave us over like we're not even there."

"Our No.1 fear is that traffic is going to increase by an incredible amount."

The motivation for the improvement seems to be the opportunity to develop the "private property along the pass which would certainly be a lot easier to develop if the road was paved and widened."

Bravo to Rep. Mark Udall for his actions to try to give the local people a voice in the determination of their future and to slow or stop this paving. The story said that Rep. Udall wrote to the Federal agency that is proposing the paving, saying: "I find it very disturbing that any federal agency sees fit to ignore the specific and very reasonable pleas of citizens..."

This road-paving scenario has happened before, and it will happen again. About 40 years ago the U.S. Forest Service wanted to pave the narrow gravel road from Ward to Brainard Lake because "the recreational area around the Lake was crowded on Labor Day." Some members of the Boulder Group of the Colorado Mountain Club opposed the paving, noting that if the Forest Service paved the road, this recreational area would be crowded every summer day. So the Forest Service paved the road, and the area became crowded throughout the summer. At one point the crowding was so severe that the Forest Service put up a check station to turn back traffic when the area around the Lake was filled to capacity with vehicles.

This experience is yet another illustration of the fundamental law of building highways, that applies to Interstate Highways as well as to gravel roads in the mountains. Each new highway and each improvement in an existing highway generates enough new traffic to fill the new or improved highway to capacity. It is also a fact that a gravel road is an inoffensive filter. Some people refuse to drive on gravel roads, but they are not offended by their presence. People are offended if you pave the road and then have to put up a check station to control the wholly predictable increase in traffic.

What we have here is a small-scale replay of the major theme in the history of North America. The European conquest of North America and the consequent elimination of the Native Americans was initiated by European business interests that received royal governmental charters and ecclesiastical blessings for their enterprises. The conquest was continued by American interests with the blessings of the leaders of our society and with the strong military and financial support of our Federal government. The elimination of the Native Americans was achieved wholly in accord with the contemporary religious, moral, ethical, social, and business standards of the times. The Natives were told that the imposition on them of the European way of life would be a big "improvement." The Natives could either accept the new way of life of the conquerors, they could pick up their lives and move elsewhere, or they could choose between being killed or being institutionalized on reservations.

At the most fundamental level, the sustainable society of the Native Americans was replaced by the unsustainable European society.

The violent parts of the conquest were achieved through the use of firearms. But more important, the "peaceful" parts of the conquest were achieved by the building of roads, canals, and railroads across the "untamed" continent. These transportation arteries and the resulting settlement had enormous environmental impact. They destroyed the ecological support system of the Native Americans, and hence were of inestimable importance in the overall plan of conquest. A sustainable society (Native Americans) cannot co-exist with an unsustainable society.

This drama of conquest is being played out today in hundreds of communities from coast to coast all over America. The players have changed, but the conquest proceeds in the same way. The conquests of today are initiated by Americans whose wealth and / political positions provide royal connections and charters from the Federal Government. When politicians initiate these conquests, it is often because they have no understanding of the fundamental laws of highways, cited above. The conquests are said to be in response to the will of the people, which means the will of the bureaucrats who claim to be representing the will of people elsewhere. This means that people elsewhere have decreed that the road building agencies of the Federal and other governmental agencies must destroy the way of life of today's "Natives" for the greater good of the larger society. The "Natives" of today are ordinary Americans who have built small comfortable self-supporting mountain communities where they wish to live in peace. They don't bother others, and they don't wish to be bothered by others. Today's conquests are conducted wholly in accord with the legal, business, moral, ethical, etc. standards of today, so firearms are not needed: legal authorizations and bulldozers will do.

The impending conquest of Guanella Pass is but a small example of this contemporary mode of conquest.

Let's see how these conquests proceed. The rich and powerful go to the Feds for royal charters to "tame" (plunder) any remaining "undeveloped" area that offers the opportunity of profit. The rich and powerful don't wish to spend their own money improving the roads, so central to their conquest is the requirement that the Feds pay for the construction of improved highway access. This improved roads are "justified" by claiming the need for improved safety and convenience, not of the Natives, but of those who, it is expected, will replace the Natives. Environmental impact statements can be counted on to support the planned destruction by minimizing the anticipated "impact" of each and every new construction. Just as was the case a century or two ago, the Natives oppose the building of the roads. But, just like the case with the Native Americans, today's Natives can move on and allow their lands to be plundered, or they can lie down in front of the bulldozers and be killed. Their only hope in their wish to preserve their way of life from exploitation by others is for a courageous Congressman to stand up for them and help them.

With continued population growth, we know with absolute certainty that paving the road over Guanella Pass will bring enormous increases in traffic to this quiet mountain region. The needs of this new traffic will have to be met by urbanization, which calls for the construction of filling stations, stores, homes, schools, and resort hotels, along with water systems, sewer systems, police and fire protection, etc. While the conquest is taking place, the Natives will have to endure the pollution and congestion that will follow the unwanted urbanization.

The Natives who chose to stay will have to pay greatly increased taxes to provide for all of these costly amenities of the unwanted urbanization that is forced on them by the conquerors. Indeed, the tax system of the conquerors is a major tool of conquest. Influential developers who have instigated the highway building will build a few expensive structures in the existing Native community. These will increase the value, of all of the surrounding properties. Assessors, obedient to the law, will therefore have to increase the taxable valuation of the surrounding properties. This increases the taxes the Natives have to pay, so those Natives on fixed or limited incomes will ultimately find they can no longer afford to live in their family homes and they will have to sell out and move on. The ultimate tax the remaining Natives will have to pay will be an open space tax to allow the new urban community to purchase and preserve a small portion of the open space that the Natives had enjoyed all along.

After all, it's a free country and conquests such as this are an essential part of the "healthy economy." Like the Native Americans before them, many of today's Natives will choose to abandon their mountain community and accept dispersion to places as yet untamed by the developers, while the developers can build their luxurious resorts and palatial houses on the site of the former community.

A favorite theme of the conquerors is that they will be creating new jobs. This overlooks the fact that the Natives saw no need for new jobs. What the conquerors mean when they talk about new jobs is that the Natives, now crowded into reservations at new sites dozens of miles away will be offered the opportunity to commute long distances to minimum-wage service jobs such as tending the grounds, operating the valet parking, cleaning toilets and making beds for the conquerors.

All of this is done in full accord with contemporary legal, business, ethical, ecclesiastical, and societal standards. These standards don't allow individuals or small communities of individuals to "stand in the way of progress." It is totally legal for conquerors to come in, have the government pay for "improvement" of the roads and then for the conquerors to use their big financial resources to buy up land, displace the Natives and to destroy their small tight-knit communities. Invariably the conquerers will express surprise that the Natives don't appreciate all that the conquerors are doing for them.

In this instance there is hope. Representative Udall has the background necessary to understand the plight of the Natives and the nature of the conquest that they are facing. He has the will, and he may have the power to stop this conquest.

In the meantime, we need to look at our system and at our understanding of the meaning of "progress." Do native communities have the right to be left alone? Do Natives have the right to live their lives in peace, and to escape the exploitation of the conquerors who currently have the will and the power to destroy everything that stands in their path? All of this destruction may be legal, it may have the blessings of many in high places, but is it right for the wealthy to destroy the ways of life of the unwealthy?

Today's engine of conquest is the bulldozer. Just as it has been in the past, roadbuilding is the principal tool of conquest.

Thanks again for your story. It's the type of story one rarely finds in the mainline media, which are so often allied with the conquerors rather than with the Natives.

Copyright Albert A. Bartlett
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