Local Industry Helps Murdering the Bonneville Salt Flats, Few Seem to Care

Even though it's hard to think about two things that are completely unrelated in this world, I sort of hoped that motorcycling will not be affected by the irresponsible actions of some equally irresponsible companies. But I was wrong...
The word of land speed records for both bikes and cars is about to be changed forever. The Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah are in peril, now maybe more than they've ever been. Quick action is mandatory lest we will all have to kiss the good-old Speed Week, and all the other similar events that took place there, goodbye forever.

I recently reported that this year's Speed Week supposed to take place in early August in Bonneville was once more in danger. The quantity and the quality of the Bonneville salt are the main problem. The layer of salt that covers the sticky mud of the plains is getting thicker to the point where it can no longer support the weight of a car, let alone the impact of a vehicle travelling at mind-boggling speeds. And what's even worse is the fact that the very surface that is covered by salt is gradually becoming smaller.

Fewer courses, shorter runs

The Southern California Timing Association is trying now to determine whether the current condition of the Bonneville Salt Flats is fit for racing. The SCTA recently announced that a group of test racers will travel to the site and see whether the Speed Week can be held in safety.

Mind me, it looks like these fellows are some sort of heroes. Knowing how precarious the condition of the racing surface is, attempting to drive/ride hard on it is borderline madness. As if land speed racing was not dangerous enough, attempting such runs on a surface that can, at least in theory, crack and expose the thick salty and sticky mud underneath sounds downright insane.

Still, it looks like someone has to do it. These chaps will be in Bonneville on July 21 to assess the condition of the salt flats and will report back to the Southern California Timing Association. A final decision is expected to be made on July 22.

The Utah Salt Flats Racing Association also canceled the Test 'n' Tune event last weekend, and the reasons behind this cancelation were reported to be rainy weather and mud covering the 6-mile (9.6 km) long area normally used as race track. In certain places, the salt was too rough, soft or thin to support racing safely.

Someone came up with the idea that fewer and shorter courses might be designed, but this will definitely have a strong impact on the performance of the racers. Moreover, knowing this situation, it is uncertain how many of these guys would agree to take part in an event that was changed in such a way.

2015 could be one of the biggest events but nothing is certain

Now, the 2015 Speed Week promises (mind the present tense I still use) to be one of the biggest events in history, with around 600 racers already registered. From amateur to pro racers, a huge number of people depend on the Salt Flats and leaving them without their track would not be exactly the happiest thing in their lives.

Even if the Bureau of Land Management says that there is not enough "modern evidence of a long-term decline", people seem to agree that the biggest culprits responsible for the decay of the Bonneville Salt Flats are several mining companies that extract potash from the region.

Salt even appears to be a by-product of the mining process, as the main resource being extracted are water-soluble potassium salts used as fertilizer. It looks like in this case, just like in many others, the legislation is not exactly keen to preserve the area.

The Salt Flats site is, as the official description reads, "on the National Register of Historic Landmarks because of its contribution to land speed racing." However, the mining law seems to elegantly ignore this fact and allow the prolonged degradation of the region.

In the absence of firm data, it's hard to say that mining companies such as Morton Salt or Intrepid Potash, to name just two of them, are the only ones responsible for the degradation of the Salt Flats. Even racers seem to agree that the ecosystem works according to principles that are not fully understood yet.

Industry has always been in denial

The saddest part of all this story is that we have so many examples of catastrophic changes caused by the industry that it's really hard to believe almost anyone coming forth and claiming local industries have no impact on the environment.

There is no such thing as big-scale industrial operations that won't leave their mark on the environment, and mining is probably the one industry that has been hauling the biggest amounts of BS in history. I don't have a precise way to measure and scale things, but I would definitely put mining in the same category with oil drilling, fracking, logging and some more.

Not that there's something inherently wrong with these industries, but nature has always come off worst when excessive resource exploitation was the REAL name of the game, no matter how much lobbyists and narrow-minded citizens denied this.

As for the Bonneville Salt Flats and everything they stand for in the automotive and motorcycling industry, I can hope that maybe, just maybe, it's not too late for firm action to save them.

Otherwise, Bonneville will remain a thing for old postcards, the stories racers will tell their nephews, and an icon of bitter remembrance of how stupid mankind can at times be.
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