Environmental group says S.L. illegally filling in wetlands to build soccer complex

Published: Friday, Jan. 21 2011 5:21 p.m. MST

The Jordan River Restoration Network has accused Salt Lake City of dumping fill dirt without a permit in wetland areas of the Salt Lake Regional Athletic Complex at 1900 West 2200 North in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 21, 2011.

LAURA SEITZ, Deseret News

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SALT LAKE CITY — An environmental advocacy group is accusing Salt Lake City officials of illegally filling in wetland areas to build a soccer complex near the Jordan River.

The Jordan River Restoration Network sent a letter Friday to Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and City Council Chairwoman Jill Remington Love informing them of its intent to file a lawsuit over the city's alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.

In the letter, the group says a city consultant last fall inaccurately determined that the site of the planned Salt Lake Regional Athletic Complex included 1.35 acres of wetlands. That number, the group says, should be 13.5 acres.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a permit allowing the city to fill 1.35 acres of wetlands on the condition that a mitigation plan replaces and compensates for the loss. The Jordan River Restoration Network contends that the city is destroying 13.5 acres of wetlands while only being required to replace 1.35 acres.

The letter includes a map from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's National Wetlands Inventory, highlighting areas designated at wetlands and noting where the city allegedly has violated the Clean Water Act by filling them in.

Friday's action relates to the Jordan River Restoration Network's pending lawsuit against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. In that lawsuit, the group appeals the corps' issuance of a permit that allowed the city to move forward with the project near the Jordan River.

The Jordan River Restoration Network contends 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.

Construction crews were at the site near 1900 West and 2200 North on Friday, hauling in fill dirt and dumping it in preparation for construction of the soccer complex.

Jeff Salt of the Jordan River Restoration Network said he believes the city is "trying to hide the evidence" of wetlands by covering them up with dirt.

"It will be hard to determine if it was a wetland or not if it's filled up and covered," Salt said.

The group also has filed four other lawsuits against the city in the past year in an effort to stop construction of the soccer complex. Two of the lawsuits relate to a dispute over access to public records; another appeals a rezone and master plan amendments; and the other challenges the Proposition 5 bond approved by voters in 2003.

In the latter legal challenge, the group alleges that the sports complex approved by voters in 2003 is "significantly and materially different" from the project for which the city now intends to use the bond money.

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 have said the lawsuits are "without merit."

Salt Lake City responded last week by filing a petition to establish validity of bonds, calling for an expedited court hearing to settle disputes about bonds and use of such funds. That hearing is scheduled for Feb. 9.

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 permanent bleachers and lights.

E-mail: jpage@desnews.com

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