Lee introduces bill supporting northern corridor, expansion of tortoise habitat

Sen. Mike Lee speaks at a Utah public lands forum hosted by the Sutherland Institute, June 29, 2018, in Salt Lake City. | Photo by Leah Hogsten/The Salt Lake Tribune via The Associated Press, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — An effort to secure a route for the “northern corridor” through the desert tortoise habitat while also expanding the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area was given a nod from U.S. Sen. Mike Lee earlier this week.

Lee, R-Utah, introduced a Senate bill Monday that mirrors the intent of Rep. Chris Stewart’s “The Desert Tortoise Habitat Conservation Plan Expansion Act.

Alignment for the proposed northern corridor approved by the Washington County Commission, Sept. 18, 2017 | Photo courtesy of Washington County, St. George News

Stewart’s bill, which passed the House Natural Resource Committee June 6, would establish a 4-mile long, 300-foot wide route for a northern transportation route through the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.

Because the roadway cuts through land set aside for the protection of the endangered Mohave desert tortoise, the bill proposes to expand the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area by nearly 7,000 acres to mitigate the impact of the road.

Read more:House committee passes bill creating ‘northern corridor’ through tortoise reserve

Stewart’s bill would also allow for continuing utility development along the highway and maintaining grazing lands in the Beaver Dam National Conservation Area.

Lee’s bill would do the same.

The proposed expansion, designated as “Zone 6,” would be created in the area south of Santa Clara and west of Bloomington Hills.

A live Mohave desert tortoise displayed at the open house for the proposed expansion bill that would add nearly 7,000 acres of land west of St. George to protected tortoise habitat in exchange for a right-of-way route through the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve for the northern corridor, St. George, Utah, March 28, 2018 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The road will run for 4.3 miles, connecting to an extension of Washington Parkway in Washington City on its east end and to Red Hills Parkway in St. George on its west end.

The road is considered vital to Washington County’s future transportation infrastructure, especially because the county continues to grow.

Read more: Planners: Congestion inevitable, but northern corridor would help

“This bill will give Washington County officials the flexibility they need to find the proper balance between protecting an important species and managing the transportation needs of one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country,” Lee said in an emailed statement to St. George News.

The northern corridor has been in the county’s plans for years.

County and municipal officials claim Congress promised the county a right of way for the road in legislation that passed in 2009. Opponents say Congress directed federal agencies only to evaluate the possibility of such a route.

Read more: Letter to the Editor: Northern corridor pressure mounts and citizen action is needed

Sign marking the entrance to Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Washington County, Utah, Oct. 20, 2017 | File photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

Environmental advocacy groups oppose the northern corridor and fear it will have an adverse affect on the desert tortoise.

They also claim the proposed legislation circumvents established federal environmental review policy. It sets a bad precedent, opponents say, by allowing legislative commitments to protect the desert tortoise to be tossed aside via congressional fiat.

“This bill would lead to the breakdown of decades of compromise that was reached by conservation interests, developers, local government, the public, Congress and many others to protect important desert tortoise habitat and allow for continued growth around the National Conservation Area,” Phil Hanceford, conservation director at the Wilderness Society’s BLM Action Center, said in a statement to E&E News, a news source that covers stories related to energy and the environment.

“Backing out of these deals is bad public policy and would send a sign that some can simply not be trusted to uphold their end of the bargain,” Hanceford said.

Email: mkessler@stgnews.com

Twitter: @MoriKessler

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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6 Comments

  • hiker75 August 4, 2018 at 9:10 am

    A conservation plan?

  • tcrider August 4, 2018 at 11:59 am

    This is a poor excuse for a plan, the benefit of it being a short cut is lost because it
    goes around green springs instead of through it, this will cause drivers to use green springs
    for a means of connecting to I15 and will not help relieve traffic congestion where it needs
    to offer a more efficient route.
    This is just plain old poor planning with a dose of corruption for the green springs developers.
    The Green Springs golf course is owned by city of Washington city and the property could of been
    used for the byway, This plan is so screwed up it reflects on all of our local leadership and their
    future objectives, very stinky.

    • John August 4, 2018 at 8:08 pm

      Put a few more cards in your spokes whiner! Your’e not noisy enough, I still hear you crying!

  • beacon August 4, 2018 at 5:48 pm

    Senator Lee has never been a lover of public land nor has his former aide and current Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson. I can only imagine that Iverson has enlisted the help of his former boss to get his work done for him. There has never been an agreement for a road through the Reserve (now NCA). It may have been on county and St. George City road plans, but past leaders who agreed to the Reserve “with no new roads” did not include the road in their agreement to establish the Reserve. Those decisions should be held to. The proposed Northern Corridor is not far enough from the center of St. George to be much help. Road planners and leaders will come back for more tax dollars for another road in the future to better meet the need. Anyone who looks at a county map that shows the relationship of the Southern Parkway to the city can see how far to the south it is. That’s what we need for a northern parkway and one was offered in the 2015 BLM Resource Management Plan but has been rejected as too expensive. But what’s more expensive? Building a road that won’t serve the purpose for which it is argued it is needed to the tune of $110 million, or building a more expensive road that would actually serve the needs of the community in the future? Additionally, there are options that have not been fully evaluated since the county and cities are so focused on the one road.

  • Scott August 4, 2018 at 8:06 pm

    They paved paradise and put in a 5 lane highway

  • Craig August 5, 2018 at 9:45 am

    The counter arguments are interesting, though some assume rudeness is useful to discussion.

    I certainly don’t know enough about this issue to take a side, I am always skeptical when I read, “Environmental advocacy groups oppose the northern corridor.”

    Most of these groups have an agenda that borders on the fanciful, with no objectivity.

    It would be great to read a logical and thoughtful discussion of pros, cons, alternatives, and possible compromises.

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