BY MELINDA WILLIAMS
Clipper Staff Writer
BOUNTIFUL — Utah’s plan for the West Davis Corridor is bad for the birds, the federal government say, and local environmentalists agree.
”We’re right on board with what they’re saying,” Heather Dove, past president of the Great Salt Lake Audubon said.
The U.S. Department of the Interior sent a letter to the Federal Highway Administration’s Utah office on Aug. 14 criticizing plans for the West Davis Corridor and calling for a second look at the Shared Solution. Anti-freeway activitists distributed it publicly on Wednesday, Sept. 5.
“Our greatest concern with this project regards the indirect impacts to the wetlands and upland wildlife habitats of the Great Salt Lake shore lands,” wrote Robert F. Stewart, regional environmental officer of the U.S. Department of the Interior, in the letter.
The letter comes after the Utah Department of Transportation released a draft proposal for the freeway earlier this summer, recommending that it be built near Glovers Lane in Farmington rather than near Shepherd Lane in Kaysville. Angry neighbors, mostly in Farmington, have joined hands to create the Shared Solution Coalition and have drafted a plan knows as Shared Solution that would use mass transit, more local roads and more efficient land planning instead of a new freeway.
UDOT’s proposal addresses some of the issues, but leaves others unaddressed and makes no substantive conclusions regarding damage to the habitat or wildlife community resulting from the road’s construction, according to the letter. The road would have major negative effects on the migratory bird population, according to the letter, which added that the Great Salt Lake ecosystem is an irreplaceable resource for migratory birds, with an estimated 7.5 million birds passing through the area annually.
“The GSL is part of the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network, a distinction afforded to only seven areas of the lower 48 states,” Stewart wrote.
Protected birds include the red-necked phalarope, the American avocet, the black-necked stilt, tundra swans, continental pintails and, during the winter, bald eagles. They need the fields, the freshwater and saltwater and places to rest, he wrote.
“The mosaic of uplands and wetlands is of great value to the (Great Salt Lake’s) wildlife,” the letter reads.
Stewart took particular aim at the Glovers Lane alternative, Alternative B, but didn’t like other options either.
“The Glovers Lane option would be significantly more damaging to GSL shore land wetland and wildlife habitats than the Shepard Lane option,” he wrote, adding, “All build alternatives would cause significant permanent impacts to the wetland and wildlife resources associated with the GSL ecosystem. We encourage UDOT to fully vet this alternative (the Shared Solution) as it did with all 23 alternatives, and to provide its agency resources to fully develop and assess its details.”
Dove also favors the activists’ plan, as does Steve Erickson, Utah Audubon Policy Advocate and a member of the coalition.
“We are pleased that the Department of the Interior recognizes, as we do, that the impacts of those project on birds and wildlife and the Great Salt Lake ecosystem are unacceptable,” he said. “We also assert that this project is bad for Davis County residents and an unnecessary waste of Utah taxpayer’ money.”
Utah Department of Transportation spokesman John Gleason declined comment on the letter on Thursday. Since the comment period is still open, UDOT wants to give all people a chance to make comments openly, and then allow agency officials to have time to look at and respond to each comment.
“It’s all part of the process,” he said. “We’ll be addressing each and every comment in the final EIS.”
The letter from Stewart is a compilation of comments from various federal bureaus that would be affected by the proposed road.
News about the letter from Stewart follows news of a 30-page submission from Farmington City that also criticizes the plan. In contrast, the Davis Chamber of Commerce and the Davis County Commission have sent UDOT letters of support over the agency’s plan.
The deadline for submitting comments on the Draft EIS is Friday, Sept. 6. Comments can be mailed to West Davis Corridor Project, 466 N. 900 W.,Kaysville, UT 84037 or emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org. The Shared Solution can be found at www.SharedSolution.org.