Any hopes that the environmental impact statement for the Legacy Parkway would bring a change of heart within the Army Corps of Engineers could soon shatter.
Although the Utah Department of Transportation will not submit a formal application for approval of the parkway until after the Oct. 2 public release of the EIS, officials within the Army Corps of Engineers say that little has changed regarding the problems of approval.This despite proof within the environmental impact statement that the proposed western route of the 13-mile parkway, which would run between Farmington and North Salt Lake, will only impact 44 more wetland acres than the other alternative. UDOT has contended that the locally preferred western route will eventually protect more wetlands, because the parkway can be used as a buffer.
The EIS has a number of "fatal flaws," which are items either unaddressed or unrelated to the environment, said Art Champ, chief of the Army Corps regulatory branch in Sacramento, Calif.
One problem is the factors used in determining wetlands impact, said Champ, in a letter to UDOT that responded to the administrative draft of the EIS, dated July 23. Primarily, the EIS only accounts for direct impacts.
"That ignores fragmentation impacts, differences in quality of wetlands and amount of wetlands remaining east of the alternative which will be more prone to development and if not developed will likely be degraded by adjacent development," the letter reads.
In determining whether to approve the project, the Corps can allow greater wetland impact if the purpose is one which can be achieved no other way. In the EIS, UDOT attempts to demonstrate the factors which make the western route necessary. Those factors include a buffer zone against development and an alternative route for emergency vehicles.
Those factors, although eventually important, do not qualify as a basic purpose of the road.
"While we have not made a decision on the basic purpose of the project, it appears that this purpose is to transport people and goods in a north-south direction," Champ said in the letter.
In regard to the buffer zone, Champ suggests UDOT propose the development of wetlands west of the road as an independent project.
"This would entail evaluating buffer zone alternatives, independent transportation alternatives, and then selecting the best combination of transportation and buffer zone plans," Champ said.
Along with submitting the application, UDOT is currently designing the specific mitigation plans for the wetlands. That report will include an evaluation of impacted wetlands and a description of proposed wetland improvements.
"This is very similar to what we have been saying all along," said Carlos Braceras, project director for the Legacy Parkway. "We have tried to explain why the locally preferred alternative is the least damaging."
Once the EIS is released, the public will have 60 days to comment on the project. This will include one public hearing, planned for early November.
Although vital, public comments would not likely sway the Corps, said Brooks Carter, regional director for the Corps. Instead, it is a period to determine if new information needs to be examined.