Opponents of the “Northern Corridor”—the proposed parkway that would link I-15 at exit 13 to the Red Hills Parkway—have created a petition opposing Washington County plans to build the new highway through the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. Foes of the Northern Corridor project are broadcasting a call opposing a bill sponsored by Utah Senator Orrin Hatch that will make it possible to build the highway. As of the publication of this article, the petition’s sponsors have gathered over 101,000 signatures* in order to “Reject highway construction in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and honor the conservation agreement.”
Senate Bill 1783 would amend the Habitat Conservation Plan and the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 to eliminate any additional requirements imposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to the recently released Bureau of Land Management plan for the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. The BLM plan “recommends no utility or transportation right-of-way be included to accommodate the road because of concerns over the impacts to natural resources.”
Opponents of the bill state that construction of the Northern Corridor would degrade the habitat. In the petition, they claim, “[The reserve] is home to numerous at-risk plant and wildlife species, including the Mojave Desert Tortoise, which is listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act and is at risk of extinction due to habitat loss – the very habitat that would be destroyed by Sen. Hatch’s bill.” The authors of the petition also say that an agreement was reached when the Reserve was created back in 1996 to leave the conservation area intact and the 2009 act confirmed the agreement.
Dean Cox, Washington County Commission Administrator told The Independent that citizens should not sign the petition opposing the Northern Corridor because “an actual proposal for the Northern Corridor has not been tendered. Eliminating … any form of consideration would be hasty and unwise.”
“Congress, in fact directed the BLM to include a northern corridor in the Resource Management Plan for the new NCAs [National Conservation Areas] that were created with the Lands Bill,” Cox said. “During the planning process, Senator Hatch sent a letter to the BLM explaining to them, for their planning consideration, what the intent of the Congress actually was.”
According to the website GovTrack.US, SB 1783 was referred to committee on July 15, the first stage of the process of being enacted. In spite of the support of Senator Hatch, GovTrack.US only gives the bill a 9 percent chance of becoming law at this point.
*Poll numbers updated as 9/22 12:00 p.m.