Flawed Red Cliffs plan receives over 16,000 public comments

Dave Welz
|January 13, 2020

The below is from a press release issued by our partners Conserve Southwest Utah, part of our Friends Grassroots Network. Additional coverage from The New York Times can be found here.

On January 8, Washington County residents, local and national groups marked the end of a one-month public comment period on the proposed Northern Corridor Highway. This 4-lane highway would travel through the heart of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (NCA) for approximately 5 miles, linking I-15 exit 13 to Red Hills Parkway. Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT’s) application for the right-of-way triggers 3 major plan amendments that would weaken protections for scenery, recreation, and threatened and endangered species on public lands in Utah.

Approximately 16,000 comments had been received on January 6th, with at least 2,000 more continuing to roll in. Conserve Southwest Utah is still adding up comments from Washington County residents and members of the 16 different local, regional and national coalition partners working together to defend Red Cliffs. Conserve Southwest Utah Public Lands Program Manager Sarah Thomas said that in all her conversations with partners, no one could think of a case where so many people commented on a scoping proposal:

“It’s amazing to have nearly 20,000 comments at this first stage in the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process. Department of the Interior started the comment period for the most controversial public lands issue in Washington County history in the middle of the busy holiday season. We are very grateful to the huge number of people who carved out time from their Christmas and New Year celebrations to write to defend the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.”

The Northern Corridor Highway has attracted high levels of local and national interest because the application for the right-of-way does the following: 

  1. Violates the promise agreed upon by Washington County government and citizens in 1995 to permanently protect the 62,000-acre Red Cliffs Desert Reserve in exchange for opening up over 350,000 acres of surrounding land for development.
  2. Fragments the popular T-bone and Cottontail trails and impacts 15 others.
  3. Destroys the exquisite scenery that attracts visitors and residents from across the country and around the world and exposes homeowners in Middleton and Green Springs to high levels of traffic noise, air pollution and litter.
  4. Threatens the integrity of the American system of National Conservation Lands, incredible places like Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments; the Pacific Crest Trail and Iditarod National Trails; wild and scenic rivers and more.
  5. Jeopardizes the survival of the threatened Mojave desert tortoise in Utah. Red Cliffs NCA is home to the densest-population of threatened tortoise left surviving anywhere in its range, and this highway imperils their survival.
  6. It is the result of a rushed and closed-door process, opening up land for inappropriate development with little input from the public. 

This reckless application sets an unacceptable precedent for National Conservation Lands across the country. Utah’s public lands are world-renowned, and the law requires that they be managed on behalf of all Americans, including future generations.

Organizational quotes

Tom Butine, retired Aerospace Engineer and current volunteer Board President of Conserve Southwest Utah:

 “It took a massive effort over the holiday season to write scoping comments on the Northern Corridor Highway and associated plan amendments submitted yesterday on behalf of our 16-partner Red Cliffs Conservation Coalition and their members.  This is the latest of 7 attempts by local government in the past 15 years to violate the 1995 Washington County Habitat Conservation Plan and the agreement to protect the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve (now National Conservation Area). The other attempts failed, and this one will too. There are transportation alternatives that could reduce traffic congestion without this unnecessary sacrifice of recreation, scenery and wildlife.”

Sarah Thomas, Public Lands Program Manager, Conserve Southwest Utah:

“I was 8 years old the first time I visited the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. My dad took my brother and I to Babylon to walk beneath a sandstone arch, see dinosaur tracks and petroglyphs, and search for spiny soft-shelled turtles in the fine silt of the Virgin River. I was a teenager when I encountered my first threatened Mojave desert tortoise near the Hurricane Cinder Knolls. Like many other St. George residents, I mark big moments by going up on the Sugar Loaf to look out across the city, and then back, across a sea of red sandstone to the Pine Valley Mountains. Many of our favorite places are protected inside the Red Cliffs NCA. I want this land for my children someday, and I am thrilled to work with our community to protect Red Cliffs for the future.”

Howard Johnson, Warm Springs Resident:

“I have lived in Warm Springs for six years now. We moved here from California so we could have a nice retirement and get out of the smog. My wife has severe asthma so we needed a place with clean air. Building the Washington Parkway Extension behind our house in Warm Springs to that it can link up with the Northern Corridor Highway makes no sense. This new freeway would take away some of the scenery that people come up here to admire and cause noise, smog, congestion, and the building of more houses. Who would want to buy a home in this part of Washington county if the highway is built?”

Derrick Lytle, Filmmaker and Outdoorsman: 

"The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve/NCA is a jewel among jewels in Southern Utah. This special area is rich in cultural artifacts, natural beauty, and is a refuge from the chaos of life. The Northern Corridor is a short-sighted way to reduce traffic congestion while destroying the land that Utahans and visitors to the state hold sacred. A road through the Reserve is illegal and sets a precedence for the further destruction of protected public lands."

Lance Claymore, Screenwriter, Actor and Filmmaker:

“Red Cliffs is a place where we can get away from trucks blasting their engines from one stop light to the next. The land gives us a vacation from noise. Silence these days is a pleasure that many people no longer have. We need silence to be able think without influence from others and to rest our ears from the digital noise that constantly surrounds us. By protecting Red Cliffs, we protect this quiet for our future generations.”

Ichtaca Arrizon, Painter, Poet and Sculptor

“I go to Red Cliffs to find solitude and inspiration as an artist. It’s not just the scenery that makes Red Cliffs special, but the wildlife, too. This land is all that is left for ancient, sacred animals like the desert tortoise. We are guests on the land. How about we start to treat that which is around us with a little more dignity and respect? BLM should study transportation alternatives outside the red Cliffs NCA.”

Above: Over 40 Washington County residents gather
at the local BLM office to submit scoping comments
on the Northern Corridor Highway.

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About Dave Welz
Durango, Colo. Work on behalf of the National #ConservationLands for @ConservationLF. Hunt #publiclands. Love powder, rivers, singletrack. Hate fragments.
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