FARMINGTON -- A letter drafted by the U.S. Department of the Interior states the Utah Department of Transportation's current alignment for the West Davis Corridor will cause irreversible damage to Great Salt Lake wetlands.
The letter was sent to James Christian, the administrator of the Federal Highway Administration's Utah Division, and was signed by Interior Department Regional Environmental Officer Robert F. Stewart.
The letter was sent in August but was not publicly released until late Wednesday afternoon, when a group of opponents to the West Davis Corridor sent the letter to several media outlets.
The group -- made up of Utahns for Better Transportation, the Sierra Club, Friends of the Great Salt Lake and several other environmental and citizens groups -- calls itself the Shared Solution Coalition.
The Interior Department believes the alternative selected by UDOT and the Federal Highway Administration does not meet the "least environmentally damaging" criteria, as required by the Clean Water Act.
UDOT's preferred alternative for the road is a 20-mile, $587 million extension of Legacy Parkway that would weave its way through western Davis County.
The state's preference for the road would take 26 homes and five businesses and would have a direct impact on 110 acres of prime farmland.
The Interior Department said beginning the road at Shepard Lane in Farmington, instead of UDOT's current choice of Glovers Lane, would reduce damage to wetlands, but it also notes that any construction will have major negative impacts to area wildlife.
"Construction of ... a new four-lane freeway adjacent to the Great Salt Lake shore lands would have significant, irreparable impacts to the wildlife populations that rely on those habitats," the letter states.
"It would substantially degrade the value of that habitat and would permanently alter the composition of the wildlife community in the area. All build alternatives would cause significant, permanent impacts."
The Interior Department said the negative impacts would extend large distances from the road -- more than a kilometer for many species.
The letter also says the state's draft environmental impact statement fails to address all of the potential environmental effects and doesn't make any substantive conclusions about permanent degradation of the habitat and the wildlife community that would likely result from the project.
"The DEIS does not provide any commitment to mitigate for the impacts to this unique resource," the letter states.
"Ultimately, the DEIS discounts any overall negative impact on wildlife communities by addressing each factor only individually, describing its effects, how they would be mitigated, and concluding its impacts are insignificant."
The letter urges UDOT to consider a "no-build" option that has been put forth by the Shared Solution Coalition, an option that focuses on improving existing roads and building more mass transit to improve regional mobility.
Steve Erickson, a member the Shared Solution Coalition, echoed the sentiments of the Interior Department's letter.
"(UDOT's) DEIS is fatally flawed in many respects, and it's time UDOT recognize that it must go back to the drawing board and examine better options for the future for Davis County," he said.
UDOT spokesman John Gleason said the state will consider the Interior Department's letter as it moves forward with the project.
"We've received over 850 public comments on this project, and we've extended the comment period twice," he said.
"We're going to seriously consider every single comment we've received."
The public comment period for the DEIS ends at midnight tonight.
Contact reporter Mitch Shaw at 801-625-4233 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23.