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

Desert tortoise on hills adjacent to Bear Claw Poppy Trailhead, Bloomington area of St. George, Utah, April 26, 2013 | File photo by Joyce Kuzmanic, St. George News

ST. GEORGE – A bill sponsored by Utah Republican Rep. Chris Stewart that would expand desert tortoise habitat in Washington County to offset the highly sought after and contested “northern corridor” passed a congressional committee Wednesday.

In a 21-14 vote, House Resolution 5597, titled “The Desert Tortoise Habitat Conservation Plan Expansion Act,” was passed by the House Natural Resources Committee.

“Thank you to Chairman Bishop and the Natural Resources Committee for passing this bill to help Washington County,” Stewart said in a statement. “This legislation provides a long awaited, and much needed, norther corridor transportation route while adding further protection for the desert tortoise. We are now one step closer to providing for the needs of one of the fastest growing areas in the nation.”

The bill would add over 6,800 acres of land west of Bloomington to the 62,000-acre Mohave desert tortoise reserve that also makes up the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.

The additional acreage would offset the impact the northern corridor would have on approximately 147 acres of desert tortoise habitat as it cuts through the reserve.

Map showing the proposed location of a new northern corridor route within the boundaries of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve in Washington County | Image courtesy of Washington County, St. George News

Read more: Of transportation and tortoises: Stewart’s northern corridor bill heard in congressional committee

The bill also would allow for continuing utility development along the course of the highway, as well as maintaining grazing lands in the Beaver Dam National Conservation Area.

The 300-foot wide, four-lane roadway 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 as the county continues to grow. The county was recently ranked as having the fastest growing metro area in the United States.

The northern corridor has been in the county’s plans for years, so arguments for and against it aren’t new.

County and municipal officials claim Congress promised the county a right of way for the roadway in omnibus legislation that passed in 2009. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Resources Committee, reinforced that claim during the committee meeting Wednesday.

“You’re adding almost 7,000 acres of habitat in exchange for 147 acres that goes across the edge of the current habitat so there can be a road that was supposed to be there in the first place,” Bishop said. “That was in the deal back in 2009.”

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

Read more: Stewart introduces bill to expand tortoise habitat, establish northern corridor route

Because the road would cut through land set aside for the protection of the threatened desert tortoise, federal wildlife and lands officials have been reluctant to approve it. They have rejected routes proposed by county road planners because they were not compatible with federal environmental protection policy.

Stewart’s bill would finally push a designated route through.

Opponents of the bill argue that it would derail years of collaborative work between local, state and federal entities involved in creating the tortoise reserve, as well as sidestep federal protections via congressional fiat.

They also claim state and county road planners aren’t considering viable transportation alternatives to the northern corridor, which they say would damage prime desert tortoise habitat.

“I recognize that Washington County needs to meet the transportation needs of its rapidly expanding population and that new infrastructure will have to be built in order to do so,” Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Calif., said during the committee hearing. “But that doesn’t mean we should write new rules or ignore established protocols for bedrock conservation laws like the Endangered Species Act and (the National Environmental Policy Act).”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @MoriKessler

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

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  • Foxyheart June 7, 2018 at 12:38 am

    Someone needs to do more math. 300’x4.7miles is NOT 147 acres. Who ‘figured’ this out?

    And how would cutting the existing habitat in two be benefited by 7,000 acres that they (current tortoise residents) will not ever use? It would create 2 islands where there will be interbreeding in small areas with no possible gene diversity over the years. I still think it should be elevated and let those who use it pay for it in tolls.

  • Kilroywashere June 7, 2018 at 1:02 am

    Let’s forever call this Stewart’s Bill. I’m sorry, I simply cannot celebrate this. Brock knows me well. Bad day for the Tortoises. Oh we can compare acres saved vs. the road, but in the end, look at the actual end product. This is not something to be proud of, It is a step backwards. DO WE REALLY NEED THIS ROAD, or can you simply drive on Red Cliffs drive and get on the Freeway. How many people in St. George commute to Hurricane for work. The only necessity for this road is simply to provide money for the developers that build it. Tortoises cannot vote. I like representative Stewart as a republican but I think this project is local pork for the construction industry So from now on, we can call it the Stewart Bill. That he fought so hard for. And years from now let his name be remembered for this project. As good ole Joni Mitchell put it once upon a time, “Pave paradise and put up a parking lot” . History will be the judge. Let’s leave it at that.

  • Kilroywashere June 7, 2018 at 1:21 am

    Addendum. Poll , should the Northern Corridor / Washington County be constructed? 74% NO. 24% YES 2% no opinion. APRIL 29th 2018. The other online SG news website. Seriously, at this time, anybody driving on Red Cliffs Drive, can get on the Freeway with little or no issue. THE EMPEROR WEARS NO CLOTHES.

  • beacon June 7, 2018 at 10:15 am

    In addition to Kilroywashere’s comment about the 74% who in a poll opposed the NC, 75% of comments made at the 2018 Transportation Expo also opposed the NC. Stewart is not listening to all constituents; he’s only responding to those 25% who want the corridor. Bishop’s comments during the hearing make it clear that he is not a student of history. The 2009 bill that created the National Conservation Area and told BLM to identify 1 or more routes for a Northern Corridor, was the result of a 2008 bill by Senator Bob Bennett who is quote in April 2008 congressional testimony as clearly stating that the road was removed from the bill’s language. He and co-sponsor Jim Matheson removed the contentious bill but Stewart, Bishop and others ignore that and just forge ahead with their misinformation campaign. Bishop commented on another bill during the hearing (Juab County) that land with nothing on it is wasted – paraphrased. So, we all know where he’s coming from when it comes to public land that’s not “useful.” This effort to get a road that is not going to solve the county’s transportation needs is a waste of tax dollars ($110 million!) by those who campaigned on fiscal responsibility. Tea party, indeed! Don’t know what’s in that tea but know it’s not good to their constituents.

  • comments June 7, 2018 at 10:47 am

    You people can whine and pout and stomp your feet, BUT THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO, AND DEAR MR. STEWART COULD CARE LESS. His land developer cronies are gonna send him enough $$$ to buy a fancy new jet boat, so why would he care about silly tortoises or what the silly voting peasants want for the tortoises. Public and the reptiles get screwed, he made bank and gets the last laugh. Why would he care? $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$

  • No Filter June 7, 2018 at 11:19 am

    This needs to voted on by the people of Washington County, not some committee that will benefit financially from it. This will not only hurt the tortoise’s but it will take away from the natural beauty of the area.

    • tcrider June 7, 2018 at 12:34 pm

      you have to go through the church first and then they will tell the politicians what they should do.

      • tcrider June 7, 2018 at 12:35 pm

        chances are, the developers will give the church more money, so theres your answer.

      • No Filter June 7, 2018 at 4:47 pm

        They don’t let people like me near the church. I tend to cause a ruckus with my facts about religion.

        • comments June 7, 2018 at 6:06 pm

          Nothing will make religious mormons angrier than facts and actual history of their (our) religion. With all the conceal carry going on these days and the likelihood of many of these LDS’ers having anger control issues I’d say it’s too risky to try and present them with those ever-pesky FACTS. It’s not my place to tell them not to wallow in their delusions anyway. 😉

      • mesaman June 7, 2018 at 9:18 pm

        NIce prejudicial whine, trike rider.

  • Real Life June 7, 2018 at 12:33 pm

    Can’t put my finger on it but there i$ ju$t $omething not right about thi$.

  • Brugh June 7, 2018 at 3:27 pm

    It’s not about the tortoises…not about a needed northern freeway…it’s about the glyphs on the terrain only seen from above! There are numerous glyphs that cover the would be road but IMO its a certain glyph if a side profiled face in which other similar faces nearby have had the eye spot tampered with. I believe these were done by the Aztec and may be some sort of cache spot. This area also shows evidence of being previously inhabited. This evidence is now becoming more visible in the red sandstone due to natural wind and erosion. These glyphs depict faces..animals..symbolic writing of some sorts and even the use of plants to aid in texturing these glyphs. Some glyphs, like these in this area show what I believe to be underground passages…tortoises are just an excuse to make time for deciphering these glyphs and thinking of a plausible excuse.

    • comments June 7, 2018 at 5:06 pm

      Your a lunatic, my friend 😉 . It’s about $$$ greed and the race the develop So. UT lands as fast as possible, because $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$. Stewart gets a cut–that’s why he was the driving force behind this.

  • DRT June 7, 2018 at 8:13 pm

    I am really all for the northern corridor. What I’m not for though is to have it run from Washington Parkway to Red Hills Parkway. It should be extended over to SR 18. Actually if this was the case, then I’d have no problem with a link to Red Hills Parkway.
    I have to wonder just how often some folks are actually out on the roadways at rush hour around here. Red Hills Parkway to I-15? Perhaps if that was an interchange unto itself it might work. But you either jump off Red Red Hills Parkway to access I-15 via SG Blvd at exit 8, or Green Springs at exit 10. Either way is a nightmare during morning, noon and evening rush hours.

  • statusquo June 7, 2018 at 8:16 pm

    Finally our elected officials are making some real progress on this road. Is this not what the left would term “progressive”?

    • comments June 7, 2018 at 9:27 pm

      more roads, more sprawl, more development, more population, more traffic, more pollution. I guess this is just what happens when you live in the fastest growing area in the country. It’ll be more and more like Kalifornia every day. More population and pop density will require more laws and regulations. I guess you wingnuts can blame the “evil librul progressives” for all the problems that come with a hugely increased population.

  • utahdiablo June 9, 2018 at 12:24 am

    Turtle Soup soon to be all the rage at the local Pubs!…..Good ol’ Boys win again, anything for a Buck!

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