Conserve Southwest Utah Opposes the Northern Corridor Highway
1- The highway does not honor prior promises to protect the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and the threatened Mojave desert tortoise.
- It breaks the promise made in the 1995 Washington County Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) to protect 62,000 acres of land in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve in exchange for opening up over 300,000 acres of private land for development. This “grand compromise” has fueled our economy, allowing construction of new businesses and residences while protecting the exquisite scenery that attracts new people to this area.
- If you live in a home, shop at a business, or stay in a hotel in Washington County built after 1995, you do so because of the HCP and its promise to protect a small amount of land for the threatened Mojave desert tortoise in exchange for supporting growth throughout the rest of the County.
- The densest population of threatened Mojave desert tortoise left surviving anywhere in its range lives in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve. Routing a highway through the last place where the tortoise is hanging on could jeopardize survival of this species.
- The Endangered Species Act prohibits the unauthorized take (harm or killing) of threatened and endangered species. If the Northern Corridor Highway is granted, it would cause the take of many tortoises living inside a protected reserve.
2- The highway damages the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area and sets a dangerous precedent for America’s National Conservation Lands.
- The 2009 Omnibus Public Lands Management Act (OPLMA) established 75% of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve as the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (NCA)- part of America’s spectacular system of National Conservation Lands. Section 1974 of OPLMA allows the Secretary of the Interior to authorize only the uses of the Conservation Area that would further its purposes.
- The purposes of the Red Cliffs NCA are to conserve, protect, and enhance for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations the ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreational, cultural, historical, natural, educational, and scientific resources of the National Conservation Area; and to protect each species located in the National Conservation Area that is listed as a threatened or endangered species under the Endangered Species Act.
- The Northern Corridor Highway violates this purpose because it would destroy scenery, trails, wildlife and cultural sites. Changing management plans to allow destructive uses- like construction of highways and utilities- sets a dangerous precedent for damaging other National Conservation Areas in Utah and across the country.
- Remember that the Red Cliffs (NCA) is one of only 3 NCAs in Utah and one of only 15 NCAs in the nation. Washington County residents enjoy the health and economic benefits of stunning scenery, world-class recreation, wilderness areas, dark night skies, and clean air and water because we have the Red Cliffs NCA in our “backyard.”
3- There are more effective, less expensive transportation solutions that can reduce future traffic congestion without sacrificing Red Cliffs.
- Washington County claims the Northern Corridor is needed to move future east-west traffic across northern St. George, yet the major growth in our county is happening in the southeast and won’t be served by this highway.
- The highway does nothing to reduce increasing traffic directed to the commercial center of St. George where large employers like Dixie Regional Medical Center and commercial centers like Walmart, Home Depot and Costco are located.
- Traffic modeling used to demonstrate need for this highway inside the Red Cliffs NCA, as opposed to outside, has never been shared with the public despite repeated asks.
- The Northern Corridor Highway and its connected projects are estimated to cost approximately $150 million.
- Conserve Southwest Utah’s Community Transportation Alternative offers 10 ideas for reducing traffic congestion without sacrificing the Red Cliffs NCA and the high quality of life it supports in Washington County.
- One alternative, the Red Hills Parkway Flyovers, is estimated to cost only $17 million and would help with east-west traffic flow across Northern St. George in addition to reducing major congestion at Exits 8 and 10.
4- Damage caused by the Northern Corridor Highway can’t be mitigated by Zone 6.
- Washington County proposes to lessen the damage caused by the Northern Corridor Highway by adding a 6,800-acre “Zone 6” (located west Bloomington and Sunbrook) to the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and National Conservation Area.
- Half of Zone 6 is already carefully managed for conservation of the threatened Mojave desert tortoise and the endangered Dwarf Bear-Poppy in a BLM Area of Critical Environmental Concern, meaning that it adds no new conservation benefit.
- The other half of Zone 6 is SITLA land that is heavily-recreated and shows scars from OHVs, ATVs, dirt bikes, off- trail mountain biking, target shooting, illegal dumping and competitive sporting events. These uses are not compatible with protection of threatened species like the desert tortoise. The County has not identified how they would fund management of Zone 6 or stop the damaging uses that happen there.
- The draft 2019-2050 Regional Transportation Plan shows that Zone 6 will be impacted or fragmented by 3 major highways in the future, making its mitigation value worthless.
5- The highway undermines the spectacular quality of life we enjoy in Washington County.
- The threatened Mojave desert tortoise has been a catalyst for protecting the scenery, open space, trails and tourism that makes Washington County an attractive, vibrant and healthy place to live.
- The Red Cliffs NCA protects striking scenery that attracts new residents to our area. Washington County realtors and the St. George Chamber of Commerce feature images of its dramatic contrasts between red-orange sandstone and jet-black basalt in their advertisements.
- Dark night skies, natural quiet, clean air and water, and opportunities to experience solitude and adventure are protected in the Red Cliffs NCA. As residents of one of the fastest growing metro areas in the nation, these gifts improve our lives.
- The Red Cliffs NCA supports health and wellbeing in Washington County. Open space benefits mental and emotional health, and easily-accessed trails benefit physical health. Red Cliffs protects a 130-mile trail system with a majority of trail heads less than 10 minutes from downtown St. George.
- It’s important to know that the highway would travel within 200 feet of homes in the communities of Green Springs, Warm Springs, Brio and Middleton, subjecting thousands of Washington County residents to high levels of litter, noise, light and air pollution.
- The Red Cliffs NCA attracts visitors from across the country and around the world. Red Cliffs received over 200 thousand visitors in 2018, and is a key part of Washington County’s outdoor recreation and tourism economy.
- In 2013, the total economic output from visitors to the Red Cliffs NCA was $3 million. Visitation has increased over the last 7 years, making this output much higher in 2020.
- The Red Cliffs NCA protects Southern Paiute cultural sites, Mormon Pioneer sites, a sixty-year scientific legacy of Mojave desert tortoise research, rich paleontological resources including dinosaur track and fossils, and countless opportunities for community education with schools, clubs, organizations and volunteer groups.
- The Northern Corridor Highway would jeopardize all of this and more. Please join Conserve Southwest Utah in protecting the treasures of Red Cliffs for the future. Comment on the Northern Corridor Highway DEIS starting on June 12, 2020.