Developer sweetens the deal for road through tortoise habitat

Developer Kirk Willey is offering this 12.5-acre parcel at the corner of state Route 18 and Snow Canyon Parkway as mitigation for the loss of tortoise habitat a proposed road would cause, St. George, Utah, photo undated | Background photo courtesy of Kirk Willey, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Developer Kirk Willey has added three parcels of property to a proposed mitigation in his ongoing attempts to get approval for a short road through desert tortoise habitat.

Map of a proposed access road into a new development south of Diamond Valley | Image courtesy of Washington County, St. George News
Map of a proposed access road into a new development south of Diamond Valley | Image courtesy of Washington County, St. George News | Click to enlarge

Willey needs the road for the development of a 410-acre parcel near Diamond Valley; a proposed 2,158-foot access road would cross a small section of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, created 20 years ago to protect the desert tortoise and other species.

“I am just bending over backwards trying to meet all the different agencies’ mitigation requirements,” Willey said.

“I have and continue to do all I can in good faith to meet BLM requirements (and) do not feel they are reciprocating at all.”

Read more: 410-acre development would require road through protected tortoise reserve.

Willey was granted approval last month by the Washington County Habitat Advisory Committee after meeting the committee’s requirements for mitigation to make up for the loss of tortoise habitat. The committee oversees the Habitat Conservation Plan and conservation of the tortoise.

Last month, Willey committed to contributing two 11-acre parcels of land near Leeds, an offer that was approved by the advisory committee.

Read more: Developer clears hurdle toward road through tortoise habitat.

However, at Tuesday’s committee meeting, he offered even more in an effort to make the offer more clearly a net-positive gain for the desert tortoise, Willey said.

“I have now obtained all necessary preliminary approvals – with the exception of the BLM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife,” Willey said.

A parcel of land near downtown St. George which includes part of Owen's Loop Trail in the Red Cliffs Reserve is being offered by developer Kirk Willey as mitigation for a proposed road through desert tortoise habitat | Image courtesy of Kirk Willey, St. George News
A parcel of land near downtown St. George which includes part of Owen’s Loop Trail in the Red Cliffs Reserve is being offered by developer Kirk Willey as mitigation for a proposed road through desert tortoise habitat. Date not specified. | Image courtesy of Kirk Willey, St. George News

Because committee member Larry Crist of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service voted against the proposal and Dawna Ferris-Rowley, Bureau of Land Management national conservation area manager, abstained from voting, Willey said he went back to work to improve the mitigation package.

“I wanted to keep this committee advised of my new proposal – since it would change my mitigation package from what was approved last month,” Willey said.

Approval is already on the books from several other agencies including the Utah Department of Transportation, Washington County, Snow Canyon State Park and the state’s School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.

However, Willey does not have approval from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or the BLM; the advisory committee does not have the authority to grant approval on behalf of either agency.

Report continues below.

New offer

Willey’s new mitigation package includes one of the two 11-acre parcels in Leeds plus a 12.5-acre parcel on the northwest corner of state Route 18 and Snow Canyon Parkway, adjacent to the Chuckwalla trailhead.

In addition, Willey is offering a 2.5-acre parcel above his home which includes 550 feet of the Owen’s Loop trail in St. George and approximately 1/2 acre at the base of the cinder cone near Diamond Valley.

The Cinder Cone Trail currently bisects Willey’s property line; Willey has installed gates and is allowing access, however, there are Texas Longhorn cattle pastured within the gated section that present a potential conflict with hikers.

Looming deadline

Willey’s road proposal could be at risk if the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, process is not finalized before the new resource management plan for the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area goes into effect, Ferris-Rowley said.

The proposed road is currently in an “avoidance zone,” she said, but could become an “exclusion” zone where no rights of way can be granted.

Read more: BLM and public lands: Officials offer mixed reviews of proposed resource management plans.

The BLM is under court order to have a record of decision on the resource management plans signed by Dec. 31. The protest period for the plans ended Oct. 3; the proposed plans are available to view or download from the BLM’s ePlanning website here.

Once a biological assessment is completed, it will be sent to the Fish and Wildlife Service under a Section 7 consultation to ensure the action does not jeopardize any species listed under the Endangered Species Act.

Email: japplegate@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

Free News Delivery by Email

Would you like to have the day's news stories delivered right to your inbox every evening? Enter your email below to start!

3 Comments

  • old school November 23, 2016 at 9:44 pm

    Kudos to BLM on this one! Someone needs to take a stand against the “me” generation developers who think they should be “allowed” to carve-up our national heritage every time they so “selflessly” wave some money.

  • .... November 23, 2016 at 11:27 pm

    this is absolutely fantastic news and I’m sure this will result in a positive reaction from the community and all those involved. Great article !

  • Not_So_Much November 24, 2016 at 8:20 am

    Great. Now let’s have permit fees that cover all roads, all safety, all WATER, etc including the additional loads throughout the area. Don’t forget funds to set aside for the water pipeline. Can we just be real about the impact of more and more growth?

Leave a Reply