OPINION — The following letters were submitted to St. George News in regards to an upcoming agenda item on Thursday’s St. George City Council Meeting. The first is from a St. George resident to Mayor Jon Pike and St. George City Council members. It is followed by a response from Pike.
Dear Mr. Mayor and Saint George City Council members:
As a long-time Saint George resident, I am writing to request that you please oppose and vote against the resolution that is agenda item #10 for your April 5th council meeting.
This resolution would support Washington County’s proposed Congressional legislation, misleadingly-titled “Desert Tortoise Habitat Conservation Plan Expansion Act.”
This resolution should not be approved for the following reasons:
1- The draft legislation was not available for review at the county’s related “open house” last week nor is it available now for public review. It is inappropriate to pass a resolution in support of legislation that no one has apparently seen.
This would be tantamount to giving the county a “blank check” for whatever they decide to put into the legislation, and how they wish to convert their vague talking points into actual statutory language. When it comes to legislation, the Devil is in the details, and no one has seen those details.
2- The summary or results from the public comments submitted at the county’s related “open house” last week are not available. If the city approves a resolution before that public input is available, it would disrespect those who submitted comments with the expectation that their elected officials would consider those comments before taking action.
3- There is no need for Congressional legislation to achieve the county’s purposes. The county is already negotiating with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) toward renewal of the HCP, and it knows that such renewals normally occur through an existing process under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
The county may or already has submitted a right-of-way application for the northern corridor to BLM, which likewise can be considered through the normal environmental review and public involvement process. This proposed legislation is clearly intended to circumvent existing law, remove opportunities for objective environmental analysis and meaningful public involvement, override any FWS or BLM concerns, and simply ram through what the county wants.
4- The legislation would force construction of the four-lane northern corridor highway through the Red Cliffs Tortoise Reserve and BLM Red Cliffs NCA in violation of the current HCP and BLM NCA plan. Aside from destroying and fragmenting high quality tortoise habitat, this highway would harm the beautiful view shed north of the city, which is an integral part of maintaining our high quality of life.
Moreover, I understand that the traffic model that has been used to arguably justify the northern corridor has not been available to the public nor provided for an independent validation.
5- The legislation would establish a Zone 6 purported “mitigation area” with heavy continuing recreational (including OHV) uses and with a future western corridor highway running nearby or through it, and notwithstanding that the tortoises in that area should already receive protection under existing law and BLM plan decisions;
6- The legislation would amend the new BLM Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash NCA plans to get what the county could not accomplish through the normal planning – NEPA process.
In short, I believe that this proposed legislation constitutes an assault on the rule of law, science, existing environmental analysis and public involvement processes, and federal lands and resources that belong to all Americans.
This legislation is obviously part of the highly controversial pattern in Utah whereby some state and local officials seek to wrest away control of federal lands and resources from the federal agencies charged with managing them in the national interest. Does the City of Saint George really want to align itself with this extreme position and these despicable anti-democratic tactics? I hope not.
If you have not already seen it, you may find my related Saint George News LTE at the web link below of interest.
Again, please oppose and vote against this resolution.
Thank you very much for your consideration.
Written by RICHARD SPOTTS, St. George.
I’m afraid we’ll have to agree to disagree on this issue. The path the county and affected cities are taking on this issue is precisely a legal process and completely in harmony with previous commitments, legal agreements, and even an act of Congress.
We have worked together with local, state and federal stakeholders — including Fish & Wildlife biologists— to create a win-win for the desert tortoise, other protected species, public lands access for hiking, biking and climbing, and for transportation.
While the final language of the planned habitat expansion bill isn’t yet available, a summary is. I will forward it to you in a separate email. I am very comfortable with the approach and I believe it will be very satisfying to most of our citizens and visitors to the area.
Submitted by JON PIKE, mayor of St. George.
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