SALT LAKE CITY (AP) Homeowners, state officials and federal regulators are squaring off over a proposed highway in northern Utah, and now a congressman is jumping into the fray.
The proposed route for the West Davis Corridor freeway is one that state officials say will mitigate impacts on residents and businesses, but the U.S. Department of Interior opposes the route.
In September, Interior Department officials said the proposed four-lane freeway, running on the Great Salt Lake’s eastern shore, would irreparably damage nearby wetlands.
Republican Rep. Rob Bishop, whose congressional district includes part of a proposed route, sent a letter to officials at the department, accusing them of being “callous" and “distasteful" and shunting homeowners for “a few acres of wetlands."
The Salt Lake Tribune reported that the proposed highway is a northwest extension of the Legacy Parkway, which was only built after four years of court battles with environmental groups.
One of the battles over the proposed West Davis Corridor centers on two proposed routes — one starting in Kaysville and another that begins further south in Farmington.
The Utah Department of Transportation has said that homes and businesses would need to be demolished at either route, but fewer would need to be cleared with the Farmington route, which UDOT prefers.
In each city, residents and officials hoping to save local structures are pushing to keep the freeway out.
Environmental managers with the Interior Department have warned the freeway would endanger Great Salt Lake wetlands, which are important to migratory birds. Federal officials suggest avoiding a highway altogether and instead repairing existing roads and boosting public transit.
Interior officials also said the Farmington route would cause significantly more damage to wildlife and wetland habitats than the Kaysville option.
Bishop, whose district includes Kaysville, disputed the Interior Department’s analysis, writing in a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that the Farmington route will not harm wetlands any more than another route.
The department’s stance is “distasteful, callous and wrong," and federal officials need to “explain to the homeowners, face to face, why their homes are less important than a few acres of wetlands," he said.
“People, children and their homes should take precedence over wetlands," Bishop wrote.
The freeway is needed for fast-growing communities in Davis and Weber counties, Bishop said, so “doing nothing is simply not an option."
Freeway opponents in Farmington are wishing Bishop would stay out of the matter.
“I can tell you that residents of Farmington — who are not in Congressman Bishop’s district — don’t appreciate him inserting himself into plans that are going to affect our lives," said Todd Jenson, an attorney with freeway opposition group Save Farmington. “He’s not our congressman. He should butt out."
While Bishop represents northern parts of Farmington, most of the city falls under Republican Rep. Chris Stewart’s district.
The highway proposal has been further complicated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ threat to deny needed permits for the Farmington route, citing concerns about the wetlands.
The corps, too, suggested Utah officials abandon the highway and instead improve existing roads and public transit.
UDOT manager Randy Jefferies told the Tribune that he was unsure if and how the corps’ stance could derail the project.
UDOT officials had hoped to decide on a route by 2014.
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