A new name for an old package may breathe new life into the uphill approval fight for a proposed south Davis commuter highway.
To aid in that battle, Gov. Mike Leavitt will spend Thursday in Washington, D.C., discussing the possibility of national officials with the Army Corps of Engineers overturning an expected decision by local officials to deny a permit to build through Great Salt Lake wetlands.Prior to his departure, Leavitt joined with Davis County leaders and officials from the Utah Department of Transportation to announce a new wetland preserve, the Legacy Nature Preserve. Also, Leavitt announced that the proposed Legacy West Davis Highway will from now on be known as the Legacy Parkway.
"This will preserve wetlands, buffer development, and ensure the habitat of wildlife forever," Leavitt said during Wednesday's press conference. "This will become a model of ecological management."
Establishment of the preserve emphasizes that the proposed Route C of the 13-mile Legacy Parkway eventually will protect more wetlands than any other alternative, a point that proponents of the highway have repeated like a mantra since the route was first proposed.
The local leaders have also stated that if the current proposed route is not approved by the Corps, as local Corps officials have continually indicated, they will not support another route. During Wednesday's speech, Leavitt backed that position.
"If we don't have (the preserve) today, the opportunity will be lost," he said. "The preserve is dependent on alternative C."
The need for the highway is apparent, as is the expedient building of it, Leavitt said.
"If we don't build this highway, we will have traffic backed up from Murray to Kaysville," he said.
Many local cities donated land to establish the preserve, a move that city leaders said demonstrated their willingness to compromise.
"We all want the highway, but we need to be reasonable," said Centerville Mayor Frank Hirschi. "This is reasonable."
Opponents maintained their stand against building the highway, even with the nature preserve.
"It is like drawing a conservation zone around Zion National Park," said Marc Heileson of the Sierra Club, noting that much of the possibly developable land in the wetland areas had such restrictive zoning that the entire area was already essentially preserved.
And the new name?
"It certainly sounds cleaner and greener," he said. "It's just an attempt to disguise 1950s-era, Los Angeles-style transportation planning."
Heileson, who has spearheaded the Legacy opposition for the Sierra Club, said that the trip by Leavitt to Washington didn't concern him. Already, supporters of the Stop Legacy campaign have flooded the national Corps offices with more than 200 letters, and every indication he has gotten from the national leaders signaled no chance for an overturn of any local Corps decision.
That position is not expected to change with revised wetland permitting guidelines that the Corps will soon adopt. Although the changes will be extensive, they will only affect the procedure for headwaters and a few isolated wetlands, said Brooks Carter, the local official for the Army Corps of Engineers.
"These changes will have no impact on the permit for Legacy Highway," he said.
Nor will the new, preserved wetlands. Essentially, Carter said, they are the same ones originally proposed for mitigation. Had the preserve been set aside at the beginning, there might have been a chance. This maneuver, however, is nothing more than a thinly veiled, last-ditch effort to gain approval, he said.