With comment period ending soon, County Commission passes resolutions supporting Northern Corridor, Lake Powell Pipeline

ST. GEORGE — As the public comment period for the draft environmental impact statements for the Northern Corridor and Lake Powell Pipeline draw to a close next week, the Washington County Commission passed resolutions Tuesday adding their own official support to both projects.

L-R: Washington County Commissioners Gil Almquist, Dean Cox and Victor Iverson, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Washington County, St. George News

“We, as a County Commission, made a public statement today in support of both of the Northern Corridor, which is an important transportation route for our community, as well as the Lake Powell Pipeline, which is an extremely important water infrastructure for our county,” Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson said following Tuesday’s commission meeting.

Specifically, the commission issued statements supporting the preferred alternatives outlined in the separate impact studies for the corridor and the pipeline.

The National Environmental Protection Act, also known as NEPA, requires that various alternatives must be explored in impact studies for large projects that pose a potentially significant environmental impact. The drafts of these studies are also subject to public comment before they are finalized.

The public comment period for the Lake Powell Pipeline ends Tuesday, Sept 8, while the Northern Corridor’s comment period ends Thursday, Sept. 10.

The Northern Corridor and Habitat Conservation Plan renewal

The preferred alternative for the Northern Corridor is a route proposed by the Utah Department of Transportation and favored by county officials. This route will take the roadway through the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and National Conservation Area and connect to Red Hills Parkway on its western end and Washington County Parkway on the eastern end.

The proposed route for the Northern Corridor as shown by a white and blue line on the upper center-left of map. | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The route itself closely follows the boundary of the desert reserve in an effort to lessen the roadway’s interruption of protected Mohave desert tortoise habitat within the reserve.

Local and state road planners have said the Northern Corridor is needed to accommodate the heavy traffic anticipated to come to the county in coming decades with continuing growth.

“I’m very pleased that the (Bureau of Land Management) selected UDOT’s alternative – the county’s preferred alternative as well,” Commissioner Dean Cox said.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also participated in the creation of the draft impact statement for the project.

Known in the impact study as Alternative B, the UDOT alternative is one of six proposed alternatives listed. Additional information on the other alternatives, plus the study in general, can be found here.

Should the UDOT alternative be selected in the finalized study, it will be accompanied by the creation of a new, near 7,000-acre section of the desert reserve set between Blooming and Santa Clara. Called “Zone 6,” this area will be used as new habitat for the desert tortoise, many of which already reside in the area, according to surveys done by Red Cliffs Desert Reserve personnel.

Various conservation groups, like Conserve Southwest Utah, have long opposed the proposed roadway due to negative impacts they say it could have on the desert tortoises within the reserve. The desert reserve was created as a place the threatened tortoise could be taken in order to preserve the species.

Tom Butine (green shirt), board president of Conserve Southwest Utah, points into the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve as he discusses the group’s opposition to the proposed Northern Corridor that would cut through four miles of protected desert tortoise habitat, Washington City, Utah, Dec. 12, 2019 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The Washington County Habitat Conservation Plan, which oversees the management of the desert reserve, also stands to be renewed for an additional 25 years. Though the current plan expired in 2016, the Fish and Wildlife Service has allowed it to continue as it and other parties involved, such as Washington County and other federal and state agencies, addressed various issues attached to the renewal process.

The public comment period for the Northern Corridor ends Thursday, Sept. 10. Comments can be submitted until then through the following methods:

  • Standard mail: Bureau of Land Management, Attn: Northern Corridor, 345 East Riverside Drive, St. George, UT 84790.
  • Email: BLM_UT_NorthernCorridor@blm.gov.

The County Commission has stressed the need for public comment for the Northern Corridor since the release of the draft impact statement earlier this year and has engaged in a social media awareness campaign.

The campaign has consisted of social media posts encouraging the public to comment, as well as videos featuring various local officials telling viewers how they believe the Northern Corridor will be beneficial to the future of the county and why they think it’s needed.

The Lake Powell Pipeline

Before the commission voted to approve a resolution supporting the Lake Powell Pipeline, Iverson said the pipeline is needed in order to create a second reliable source of water for the county moving forward.

Lake Powell, Utah, date unspecified | Stock image, St. George News

All of the water used in Washington County comes from one source – the Virgin River basin, and there is no secondary source that offers redundancy in the county water supply.

“The Lake Powell Pipeline obviously gives us that redundant source and will allow us to continue to prosper in this area,” Iverson said.

The proposed 140-mile-long pipeline will run from Lake Powell and cross through parts of Utah and Arizona until it reaches Sand Hollow Reservoir with around 80,000 acre-feet of water for Washington County.

Advocates for the project say the pipeline is needed in order to keep up with the county’s growing population. Opponents claim the project is too expensive — the price estimate currently hovers between $1.4 billion and $1.7 billion — and that the Colorado River, which feeds Lake Powell, is over-allocated and unreliable due to climate change.

A map showing the proposed routes for the Lake Powell Pipeline. The Highway Alternative is marked by the red line, while the Southern Alternative (the preferred path) is marked in blue. | Map courtesy of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, St. George News | Click to enlarge

As for the preferred alternative for the Lake Powell Pipeline, which was selected by the Bureau of Reclamation, the County Commission voted for the one that takes the pipeline’s proposed route along the outskirts of the Kaibab Paiute Reservation in Arizona.

Another option would have the pipeline going through the reservation and posing a threat to lands held sacred by the tribe. The route moving just outside the boundaries of the reservation is considered less invasive.

More about the Lake Powell Pipeline, its draft impact study and Native American concerns about the pipeline can be found here.

The public comment period for the Lake Powell Pipeline environmental impact statement runs through Tuesday, Sept. 8. Comments can be submitted until then through the following methods:

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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