Developer clears hurdle toward road through tortoise habitat

Composite image, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – Developer Kirk Willey has cleared a big hurdle toward building a road to access a 410-acre development near Diamond Valley.

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 image to enlarge

At a regular meeting Tuesday, the Washington County Habitat Advisory Committee approved Willey’s mitigation offer of 21.66 acres near Leeds to make up for about 4 acres needed to build a 2,158-foot access road across a corner of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.

The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve was created more than 20 years ago to protect the endangered Mojave desert tortoise. The Habitat Conservation Plan – an advisory committee that oversees the reserve and its tortoise population – set aside the 62,000-acre reserve while allowing development to continue in the rest of Washington County.

The proposed development, named CoaChella, would be built on land owned by Willey that is located east and south of the Diamond Valley Cinder Cone and east of state Route 18. Plans call for 600-800 homes on lots averaging .4 acres.

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

The proposed roadway would connect Willey’s property to SR-18 as a second access to the development – an access that is required by fire codes. Currently, there is an access to the property on West Diamond Valley Road at the north end of Willey’s property.

While the road crosses land controlled by several agencies, Willey said the Utah Department of Transportation, Utah State Institutional Trust Land Administration and Snow Canyon State Park are all supportive of the road.

At a Sept. 27 meeting, the Habitat Conservation Technical Committee was asked to review the plan and make a determination as to whether Willey’s offer of the acreage near Leeds was a “net gain” for the desert tortoise. The technical committee consists of biologists and others representing the tortoise and the state and federal agencies tasked with protecting it.

The technical committee came back with a 3-3 tied vote, throwing the decision back to the advisory committee.

Factors listed by the technical committee in support of the proposal include favorable elevation and vegetation for the tortoise and the fact that the property is contiguous with the White Reef/Zone 3 portion of the reserve, Cameron Rognan, technical committee chairman, told the advisory committee.

The Leeds property will require fencing; the advisory committee placed that responsibility on Willey.

To gain approval for the road, Willey still has to complete requirements of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management. He has been working with the BLM for over a year, he said. If Willey gets all the acquired approvals, the Leeds property would be added to the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.

Willey has not received Washington County planning and zoning approval for the planned subdivision; the project is not yet far enough along to begin the application process. The county commission did pass a resolution Oct. 18 in support of the developer and the road.

Read more: Commission supports road through tortoise habitat, gives thumbs down to Bears Ears

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  • old school October 26, 2016 at 9:48 pm

    Will there be tortoise crossings??? I think PETA just found a new cause! I mean, anyone who would champion a truck load of hog fatalities that were just going to the slaughterhouse anyway should be all over this!!!

  • .... October 27, 2016 at 2:58 am

    Maybe PETA can implement a PTSD study on the health and welfare of the desert tortoise due to the encroachment of civilization

  • BIG GUY October 27, 2016 at 5:20 am

    The tortoise reserve was created originally from government-owned land with a number of strange protrusions and indents along its borders. Many of these didn’t make much sense to people or tortoises. The Reserve has swapped land with a number of private landowners over the years to rationalize its borders and to accommodate reasonable private needs. This proposed swap clearly falls in that category. As shown on the map, the Reserve’s L shape extension to the west is costly to fence and maintain. Much better to have 20+ contiguous acres elsewhere.

    By the way, tortoises will not be inconvenienced by the proposed Northern Corridor any more than they are today by the Red Cliffs Parkway. When zealous, self-styled environmentalists overplay their hands, they lose credibility and support.

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