After suffering an expected Round One loss to the Army Corps of Engineers, the Utah Department of Transportation will now shift battle arenas for Round Two in the fight to build the Legacy West Davis Highway.
During a phone call Friday, the Army Corps of Engineers rejected the proposed route for the highway, a route approved on April 7 by the Utah Transportation Commission. The Corps said the route would have too great an impact on wetlands in south Davis County."They just didn't buy our argument" as to why the route was the best route for wetland preservation, said UDOT's Byron Parker, project director for the Legacy West Davis Highway.
Essentially, UDOT and other proponents of the $286 million highway say that building the road farther west will provide a line in the marsh to halt development. Going farther east, as the Corps has so far required, will allow development to go west, eventually ruining the wetlands, they say.
"(The Army Corps) can protect the wetlands but not the uplands," Parker said. "That could be a real damage to the ecosystem."
The rejection does not delay the construction schedule of the 13-mile highway, which UDOT has planned to complete by the fall of 2002. In fact, this denial has been part of the timetable, as has the appeal to the national leaders of the Army Corps, based in Washington, D.C. UDOT will also continue with the environmental impact statement, expected to be released publicly within the next month.
No meetings with the national leaders have yet been scheduled, although some informal discussions have shown that they have a willingness to negotiate ways to stay with the proposed route while avoiding any costly measures.
Most prominent among those undesirable measures is the construction of bridges over the wetlands, a very costly and time-consuming prospect. Or, if the Army Corps rejects the route, UDOT may even consider a lawsuit, Parker said, which would also consume time and money.
Additionally, UDOT does not want to start over with one of the other alternative routes, labeled A and B. The proposed route is commonly referred to as Alternative C.
For groups who oppose the road, this rejection has cued the opening notes of the Legacy Highway death march.
"This is what (the Army Corps of Engineers) had to do, and it is absolutely the right decision," said Nina Dougherty, chapter chairman for the Sierra Club. "The wetlands need to be contingent."
Many of the opponents hope that this most recent decision will push UDOT to look at other transportation options instead of continuing to battle for what some consider a losing cause.
"The real issue is how to move people along the Wasatch Front from point A to B," said Marc Heilson of the Sierra Club. Since the Legacy Highway, a 170-mile stretch of road between Brigham City and Nephi, was proposed, the Sierra Club has attempted to show that other forms of transportation need to be considered. These could include light rail and commuter trains.
Reeling from the decision are south Davis cities, which have battled uphill for more than a year to keep the highway west of their towns.
"It's unfortunate that no one can come together on this situation," said West Bountiful City Manager Wendell Wild. "We gave up a considerable amount to begin with, and now they won't approve anything but Alternative A."
Originally, the south Davis cities wanted the road built even farther west, along the already constructed dikes. But UDOT went east with the road, slicing through many of the communities. Finally, UDOT decided to go with Alternative C, which stayed west of most of the towns while remaining on the edge of much of the wetlands.
Regardless, Alternative C will destroy 160 acres of wetlands, while Alternative A will only destroy 115 acres. Wild believes allowing those numbers to drive the decision defies common sense.
"They (the Corps) need to let our little communities have some ground and keep some sort of a buffer," Wild said.