ST. GEORGE — Federal officials are now taking public comment on the draft environmental impact statement for Washington County’s proposed Northern Corridor and options outside of federally protected land are being considered for the first time.
The proposed four-lane highway would cut through the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area in an effort to alleviate traffic in the county. The draft statement analyzes the environmental effects of five routes and a “no action” alternative. Three of the alternatives run through the conservation area.
And some of the routes have been considered by federal agencies before. The Northern Corridor has been proposed in legislation seven times since 2006.
Conserve Southwest Utah member Sarah Thomas said this is the first time alternatives outside of the reserve are being considered.
“Hopefully this indicates a willingness by the Bureau of Land Management to support the St. George community in relieving traffic congestion without sacrificing our quality of life or damaging this really special place,” Thomas said.
“Our [analysis of] potential socioeconomic and the other alternatives in the draft EIS will provide a helpful comparison to the traffic modeling of the alternatives that involve a transportation corridor across the Red Cliffs NCA,” Bureau of Land Management spokesperson Christian Venhuizen said.
The preferred alternative presented in the draft document is one from the Utah Department of Transportation. The road would run through the conservation area and another piece of land in the county would be dedicated to the conservation of the Mojave Desert tortoise.
The Bureau of Land Management is one of several state and federal agencies that are working on the project. Venhuizen said now with the draft EIS open for public comment, he hopes people take time to read it and comment.
“Really the most helpful comments are those that are as specific as possible. Substantive comments really provide new information about the proposed action,” Venhuizen said. “As people go through and they read through it, it’s usually a deeper dive than that initial feeling.”
The draft EIS can be found online here. Comments can be submitted online or via email until September 10.
Lexi Peery is a Report for America corps member who reports from KUER's Southwest Bureau in St. George.