Right On: The northern corridor and the environmental left

Composite stock image, St. George News

OPINION — Let me see if I’ve got this right.

Rep. Chris Stewart has introduced legislation that would expand the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area desert tortoise habitat by 6,865 acres. Mike Lee has jumped on board with a similar bill in the Senate.

Stewart’s proposed expansion is a natural addition to the NCA. Tortoises are thriving there today in large numbers despite the presence of off-highway vehicles and without any protection from the Habitat Conservation Plan.

But take-no-prisoners environmentalists are opposed because the bills would use 145 acres in the current NCA for a proposed northern corridor parkway connecting Snow Canyon Parkway to Interstate 15 Exit 13.

If ever there was a chance to quantify the unbalanced worldview of the environmental left, this is it. Adding almost 7,000 acres while subtracting 145 is not good enough for environmental extremists.

What are their stated objections?

They fear a new roadway will have an adverse effect on the desert tortoise. Possible harm can’t be proved or refuted, only “feared,” so it’s a safe one to advocate. It smacks of similar, unfounded fears that Arctic caribou would be negatively impacted by the Alaska pipeline. For 40 years, caribou have ignored the pipeline, walking and grazing undisturbed as if it wasn’t there.

Northern corridor opponents claim that Stewart’s bill “violates” established federal policy, setting a “bad” precedent. It would “toss aside” prior commitments via “congressional fiat.” Local officials are trying to “ram through” a wish list.

Notice the inflammatory, doom-and-gloom words: violates, bad, toss aside, congressional fiat and ram through.

Environmentalists need to deal with it. Congress establishes the law of the land. Congress can change the law of the land.

That’s usually not satisfactory for litigious environmentalists. When their demands are not met, they head to the courts, not to Congress. Expect a lawsuit “protecting” the desert tortoise from the predations of local Washington County elected officials.

Speaking of those local officials, they are unanimous in doing their best to protect the rights of another endangered species: local citizens who thought they had a deal for a northern corridor. The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 included several provisions pertaining to the Red Cliffs NCA added by then-Sen. Bob Bennett.

No deal said the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM read Bennett’s provisions as giving it total discretion on a northern corridor. To everyone’s credit, the BLM is now working cooperatively with local officials who in turn have taken a less adversarial approach.

Stewart’s and Lee’s bills would remove any remaining obstacles.

A northern corridor is proposed by the Dixie Metropolitan Planning Organization and endorsed by the Washington County Commission, the St. George and Washington city councils as well as the state of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration.

Washington County is the fastest-growing metropolitan area of its size in the country. I’ve been impressed that local officials working with the Utah Department of Transportation have been able to keep up with that growth for the most part.

A northern corridor is an important part of their plan to prevent gridlock in the years to come. It would keep increasing numbers of Ivins, Santa Clara and northwest St. George residents away from the area’s two most congested freeway interchanges at Interstate 15 Exit 8 and Exit 10.

MPO planners have sought input from HCP biologists. The resulting recommendations have been included in roadway plans, including tortoise tunnels under the road.

Is a northern corridor a backdoor way to turn tortoise habitat into a sprawling suburb? No way. Stewart’s legislation extends the currently-expired HCP for another 25 years. For the last 20 years, there’s been no move to convert NCA land along the existing Red Hills Parkway to private use. A northern corridor would receive the same protection.

Citizens living in the St. George metropolitan area are lucky to have the Red Cliffs NCA immediately adjacent to our community. Most of us have driven or hiked through the area and appreciate the spectacular scenery that we too easily take for granted. Even though we know better, it’s easy to imagine ourselves a hundred miles from nowhere.

The NCA is worth defending even if there were no desert tortoises.

But taking that sentiment to the extreme, local environmentalists would likely object to repurposing a single square foot of the NCA. Like those opposed to reducing the size of the Escalante-Grand Staircase and Bears Ears national monuments, they see the slightest alteration as a slippery slope to oblivion.

Let’s get real. All of us are environmentalists to some degree. No one wants to breathe dirty air, drink polluted water or damage Utah’s spectacular scenery and wildlife. The trick is finding a balance between realistic human needs and environmental preservation.

Uncompromising environmentalists see humans as a cancer on the earth. If you’re not feeling like a cancer these days, join me in supporting the reasonable northern corridor compromise envisioned in Stewart’s legislation.

Howard Sierer is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: hsierer@stgeorgeutah.com

Twitter: @STGnews

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

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7 Comments

  • comments August 23, 2018 at 7:11 pm

    “Uncompromising environmentalists see humans as a cancer on the earth.”

    Pretty much, but it isn’t much different than republican elitists’ view that anyone who isn’t wealthy may as well be exploited as a slave class. Very different perspectives, but a similar disregard for humanity, wouldn’t you say?

    “Let’s get real. All of us are environmentalists to some degree. No one wants to breathe dirty air, drink polluted water or damage Utah’s spectacular scenery and wildlife. The trick is finding a balance between realistic human needs and environmental preservation.”

    Let’s get real, this place is gonna turn into “baby las vegas” no matter how much most of us don’t want to see it happen. The only real obstacle is lack of plentiful water supply. That means we have air quality to look forward to that’ll be something like vegas or the wasatch front. And Utah’s politicians have done such a wonderful job at cleaning up the air on the wasatch front right?

    I’m beginning to have something in common with you nutters tho. I’m finding that I’m starting to simply not care. I’m beginning to take on the view that wildlife is pretty much done, so what does it matter anyway? I know most of you nutters base your worldview on something like “Jesus put all of nature and every animal here for humans to consume and use up, and there’ll be unlimited supplies of it in Heaven, so it really doesn’t matter what humans do to the earth or what state it’s left in. THE LORD WILL PROVIDE”. We’ll see, nutters. We’ll see…

    I don’t believe you nutters and us “environmentalists” will see eye to eye on many things any time soon. cheers 😉

    • Happy Commenter August 23, 2018 at 8:04 pm

      If you were anymore inbred you would be a sandwich.

    • tazzman August 23, 2018 at 8:10 pm

      It wont be like Vegas. It will be more like Phoenix. Not that that is much better.

  • beacon August 23, 2018 at 9:52 pm

    Mr. Sierer is right that Stewart and Lee can by the flick of a D.C. pen change everything regarding the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve/NCA. He’s also right that the county has had biologists back them up on the Northern Corridor by stating that the road’s effects can be mitigated by the use of culverts, but that doesn’t mean that it will really work. Once the road is built, culverts or no culverts, the bad cannot be undone. The studies done to compare tortoise densities in the main area of the Reserve/NCA – Zone 3 – with the proposed Zone 6 are not comparable studies. One methodology was used on Zone 3 and another on Zone 6. It is not comparing apples with apples, but it does work in the court of public opinion when people don’t look into the details. The $100 million dollar road that road planners and county leaders have their teeth in with not solve Washington County gridlock. For tea party congressional members Lee and Stewart to support the misspending of tax money in this way is unconscionable but seems to be within their legislative ethos. If Mr. Sierer would read the April 2008 congressional record he would see that Congressman Matheson and Senator Bennett made significant changes to their land bill that included removing designations for the Lake Powell Pipeline Corridor and the Northern Corridor that bisected the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. The county has not researched all options for dealing with the county’s transportation problems. They’ve latched on to this and won’t let it go. Mr. Sierer can blame environmentalists all he wants but the blame rests with those leaders who are not willing to hold to past agreements and are running to D.C. for remedies. The area they profess to use to mitigate for the road, Zone 6, will have the Western Corridor at its western edge and will face the same growth pressures we are seeing in the St. George central area, maybe even more with the growth planned in that area once Desert Color is built, hockey rinks, and who know what else might go out there.

  • Kilroywashere August 23, 2018 at 10:55 pm

    COMMENTS & BEACON thank you for analysis. You make me proud as I agree 100% with your views. And I cannot say it any better. But I will add this. I think this road is unnecessary, and from a commonsense standpoint. How often do local residents from Santa Clara, Ivins, and Northwest St George drive north on the I 15? Yea, a few people work in Hurricane maybe, or perhaps you might want to take your Razor to Sand Hollow, but in general it just makes it a little tiny bit easier. Most people I know don’t want this corridor to be built. Just the political establishment and business interests that want the $$$$$. So no doubt this is about a boondoggle to build a highway that has little impact for most of the people in Washington County. Yea it will trickle down some jobs, and fill the pockets of political donors to give back to local politicians, but for me it is obvious we have other infrastructure that is needed desperately. I like Congressman Stewart, but I think he is making a mistake and ignoring the will of the people who he represents. If it does get built, which I think is likely, as money and power usually prevail in this day and age, he can put his name on the highway along with Senator Lee.

  • beacon August 24, 2018 at 7:58 am

    Thank you, Kilroywashere, for your additional thoughts on this critical issue. Informal surveys conducted by two local papers and comments provided at this year’s transportation expo reveal that 75% of those polled and those who commented do not want the road and, yet, Stewart says he’s doing this for the good of his constituents. Apparently, he only considers a select few as his constituents.

    • comments August 24, 2018 at 11:28 am

      yep, land developers.

      $$$$$$$$

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