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Group files another lawsuit to stop soccer complex

Published: Thursday, Jan. 13 2011 12:15 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — An environmental group seeking to stop construction of a soccer complex along the Jordan River filed another lawsuit this week, this time against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

It's the fifth lawsuit filed in recent months by the Jordan River Restoration Network in an effort to stop Salt Lake City from beginning construction of the Salt Lake Regional Athletic Complex near 1900 West and 2200 North.

In the latest court filing, the nonprofit environmental advocacy group appeals the Army Corps of Engineers' issuance of a permit that allowed the city to move forward with the project near the Jordan River.

In the lawsuit, the Jordan River Restoration Network contends that the corps violated provisions of the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedures Act when it approved a wetland fill permit for the project. The group wants that permit to be declared invalid and returned to the corps for reconsideration.

"We filed our lawsuit to stop Mayor (Ralph) Becker and his friends from destroying the city's largest natural open space along the Jordan River," said Jeff Salt, coordinator for Jordan River Restoration Network and co-plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Danny Potts, another plaintiff in the lawsuit, says Salt Lake City and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to adequately study alternatives and select the least environmentally damaging site, as required by federal law, for what he calls the "sprawl soccer complex."

"We sued because the city broke the law," Potts said.

A spokeswoman for Mayor Becker's office said the Jordan River Restoration Network's latest claim is "without merit."

"The city believes that the issuance of the permit by the Corps of Engineers will be upheld by the court," Lisa Harrison Smith said.

The Jordan River Restoration Network has filed four other lawsuits related to the soccer complex — two over access to public records; one appealing a rezone and master plan amendments; and another challenging the Proposition 5 bond approved by voters in 2003.

In the latter lawsuit, the Jordan River Restoration Network alleges that the project approved by voters in 2003 is "significantly and materially different" from that for which the city now intends to use the bond. The group also alleges that the city failed to properly provide notice of public meetings and actions related to the bond.

The lawsuit regarding the bond has prevented the Salt Lake City Council from authorizing the sale of $15.3 million in voter-approved bonds, at least temporarily.

City attorneys say the legal challenge is "without merit" and have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. Oral arguments in that matter are scheduled for Jan. 31.

City leaders held a groundbreaking ceremony in early November for the $22.8 million first phase of the Salt Lake Regional Athletic Complex.

City officials plan to use the $15.3 million bond and a $7.5 million gift from Real Salt Lake to fund construction of 15 competition-quality soccer fields and one championship field with bleachers and lights.

Members of the Jordan River Restoration Network say they aren't opposed to development of a soccer complex in Salt Lake City. But they say it doesn't belong along the Jordan River.

"Our complaint is about pursuing viable alternatives and preserving wetlands," said Eric Harvey, a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "Isn't Mayor Becker leading us into another Legacy (Parkway) fiasco?"

The 14-mile Legacy Parkway in south Davis County cost $685 million — busting the project's budget by nearly $235 million — after environmental groups sued the Utah Department of Transportation and the federal government. An eventual compromise included preserving some wetlands by moving the highway closer to I-15 and promoting a commuter-rail line.

e-mail: jpage@desnews.com

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