MAPLETON — State and federal wildlife organizations have struck a deal with a Springville land developer who encroached four acres deep onto a wildlife preserve along Mapleton's east bench while excavating for his residential subdivision.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources purchased the 124-acre parcel in 1942 to provide a winter range for large animals and hunting opportunities. But 3.8 acres of the once-protected land is now a deep, man-made chasm lined with rock. The channel acts as a storm water detention system to protect The Reserve at Mapleton subdivision from cascading mountain water.

"I prefer to think it was just an oversight on his (developer David Simpson's) part," said Mapleton Mayor Laurel Brady. "But I know — after talking to several people in planning — that it wasn't our oversight."

But some are questioning whether Simpson's misstep may not have been a simple slip-up.

"The moral of the story is, how do you make such a mistake?" asked David Nemelka, who is a friend of Simpson and who lives near the subdivision in question. "It's like is it better to ask forgiveness than permission here. (Simpson) is a great guy, though, and it's a beautiful subdivision."

Others also wondered how the well-known developer could run out of bounds that far —165,528 square feet, to be exact.

"I wasn't aware of how much they (contracted excavators) were encroaching," Simpson said in a phone interview. "I wasn't watching it close enough and then found they were farther (into the preserve) than I thought."

He told the Deseret Morning News Friday that he "thought they would only go into it (the preserve) a little bit."

According to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Simpson had originally petitioned the state for the land in question. "The developer had made application to construct the storm water detention basin with DWR," stated a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report.

Simpson defended the excavating blunder, saying he had been in negotiation with the division before his crews began digging in the wildlife territory.

"But," the federal Wildlife Service report said, "no authorization had been granted for the construction at the time the earthwork took place."

By the time officials were notified in 2007, most of the work had been completed. The Wildlife Service said that by that time, the ground had already sustained damage "beyond the feasible means of recovery" and is "no longer useful for wildlife purposes."

The division sent Simpson a cease and desist order anyway, and excavation halted.

The division has suggested no punishment or fine for Simpson's infraction. Instead, a deal has been reached in which the developer will exchange 7.5 acres on the west bank of Hobble Creek near I-15 for the damaged acreage.

"We feel the imbalance will be fully corrected by the transfer of the mentioned property to DWR," the division said.

The privately owned land that the developer is bartering in penance for his out-of-bounds excavation is slated to be used as a habitat for the June sucker, a federally endangered fish.

According to the division, the developer's 7.5 acres — worth between a half-million and three-quarters of a million dollars — will be a superior deal anyway. After an initial environmental study of the excavated land, the division said: "No listed species are found on the site, and the site does not provide any habitat needs for listed species."

The parcel of land the division is getting is greener and, according to both parties, better suited for wildlife conservancy — making the negotiated transaction a win-win for both sides.

However, a few citizens — though indifferent about the land itself — expressed criticism about the principle and whether the sweet deal was too sweet for someone who had apparently knowingly trespassed. The division responded to the public criticism saying even if Simpson had never trespassed, the same deal would have likely been good enough to accept anyway.

"I try to do what's right," Simpson said. "I really do."

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