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Reporting from the St. George area focused on local government, public lands and the environment, indigenous issues and faith and spirituality.

Northern Corridor’s Final Environmental Review Released, Conservation Group Says It Ignores Concerns

A photo of a sign that reads "Entering Redcliffs Desert Reserve."
Lexi Peery
In growing Washington County, leaders have proposed a highway that would cut through the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, which is federally protected land for the Mojave desert tortoise.

On Friday, federal agencies released the final environmental impact statement for the proposed Northern Corridor in Washington County and a final decision on the project could come as soon as January.

The proposed multi-lane highway is an effort by the county to reduce traffic, but the preferred route would cut through federally protected Mojave Desert tortoise habitat.

Tom Butine, president of Conserve Southwest Utah, said the final document doesn’t sufficiently address the group’s concerns, like the impact of recent wildfires in the area and the legality of the land the highway would run on.

“I'm positive that they didn't deal with or really address any of them, because of all of our major comments, they would not have been able to to recommend the route that they do,” Butine said.

The final document has a chapter dedicated to changes made to the draft. In it, the agencies determined the wildfires this summer didn’t present a significant circumstance to reconsider the proposed plans.

Regardless, Butine said he wasn’t surprised by anything in the document and has felt like the entire environmental review has been rushed — especially with a decision on the project expected near the presidential inauguration.

“If they get the decision recorded — which they will — before the inauguration takes place, then it's a bit more difficult to overturn,” he said. “And there [are] more process[es] that you have to go through, either with the Department of Interior or with the courts.”

Over 15,000 public comments were submitted and taken into consideration, according to Christian Venhuizen, a spokesperson with the Bureau of Land Management.

“We take the substantive comments that we received for the draft environmental impact statement,” Venhuizen said. “We review it, we assess it, and we check our analysis to make sure that, you know, we're doing our due diligence.”

He encouraged people to read the whole document to get the full context of what is being proposed. And those wishing to submit protests against the statement have 30 days to send them in writing to the BLM.

Lexi is KUER's Southwest Bureau reporter
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