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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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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.
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.
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.
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