Environmentalist rips county commission for double talk on West Davis Highway

Oct 10 2013 - 5:28am

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West Davis Corridor proposal
West Davis Corridor proposal

FARMINGTON -- A Salt Lake City environmental activist says Davis County officials are doing political double-talk when they support the building of the West Davis Corridor, while on a county website they make claims of preserving Great Salt Lake wetlands.

Carl Ingwell, founder of CleanAirNow! and co-founder of Utah Birders, brought the issue to the attention of Davis County Commissioners John Petroff Jr., Bret Millburn and Louenda Downs in an Oct. 6 email.

Copied on the email was Community and Economic Development Director Kent Sulser, Great Salt Lake Bird Festival organizer Neka Roundy and the Standard-Examiner.

"I find it slightly ironic that you're talking about saving the marshes on the (Facebook) page for (Great Salt Lake Bird Festival). The same people that are talking about saving the marshes are drawing up letters of support for the West Davis freeway," Ingwell said.

"Talk about some cognitive dissonance," he said.

On Sept. 10, the commission adopted a letter supporting the process the Utah Department of Transportation followed in reaching its final preferred alignment for the proposed West Davis freeway planned to stretch from Farmington to Roy.

But Petroff says the county can have it both ways when it comes to supporting the corridor and preserving the wetland marshes for its annual bird festival.

State road officials, in the corridor's environmental impact study, have worked to avoid impacts on the wetland marshes as much as they could, Petroff said.

"The wetland areas have been one of the top priorities in the location of the highway," he said. "My problem with some of the environmental people is that they think we cannot co-exist."

Anyone looking at the statistics, Petroff said, will find the 24-mile north leg of the West Davis Corridor is affecting far less wetland property than the 14-mile Legacy Parkway affected when it was built in southern Davis County.

The bottom line is that some environmentalists just don't want to see this highway built, thinking everyone can live "in a box" close to where they work, Petroff said.

Some people just don't want to live in high-density urban areas, he said.

Ingwell said he wants county leaders to stop talking about saving marshes when they support taking a freeway through the west side of the county that will do nothing but "destroy marshes."

The bird festival, sponsored by the county, has been held each May for the past 15 years. The weeklong event attracts numerous out-of-state visitors who have an interest in bird-watching. The Great Salt Lake shoreline provides birders with a wide variety of species to view.

The commission could avoid speaking from two opposing viewpoints if it would just rescind its letter of support for the freeway, Ingwell said.

"It's extremely contradictory to simultaneously support the West Davis Freeway, and talk about saving the marshes," Ingwell wrote in the email.

"You're fooling people into thinking that you're doing more good than you actually are."

Ingwell said he is not exaggerating the negative effects the freeway will have on wetlands.

"I've been saying it all along, as you might know, but now the United States Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Interior and Army Corps of Engineers have agreed with me," he said.

"My honest opinion is that (Ingwell) has probably not even been out there on the ground," Petroff said.

The commissioner said he has no plans to respond to Ingwell's email, because neither of them is going to change his position on this issue.

Petroff did meet with Ingwell earlier in the year in response to a different complaint.

Commissioner Louenda Downs has indicated she may meet with Ingwell, Petroff said.

This is not the first time Ingwell and the Davis commission have tangled over an environmental issue.

Last spring, Ingwell was critical of the county having Chevron as a sponsor for its annual county fair after Chevron was said to have been responsible for a diesel fuel spill in Willard Bay.

County officials defended Chevron's long-standing relationship as a sponsor of the fair, claiming any donation from the company would not be to cover any ill will.

Contact reporter Bryon Saxton at 801-625-4244 or bsaxton@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @BryonSaxton.

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