Farmington lawyers up to fight UDOT over West Davis Corridor easements

Feb 24 2014 - 4:30pm

FARMINGTON -- A Salt Lake City law firm has been retained by Farmington City to prevent the West Davis Corridor project from impacting long time conservation easements protecting shore land properties.

Farmington officials are concerned even though an alignment for the road has not yet been set, the Utah Department of Transportation continues to buy property within its initial recommended corridor.

Ray Quinney & Nebeker will represent the city's interests during the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process for the West Davis Corridor project, said attorney Jeffrey W. Appel in a Feb. 21 letter to the Federal Highway Administration.

The law firm became involved after Farmington staff met with Utah Department of Transportation and FHA officials to discuss the decision by FHA to not designate Farmington's three conservation easements as Section 4(f) properties in the draft environmental impact statement, a designation which would have protected them.

Despite Farmington officials request for additional documents regarding the specific basis for this determination, representatives from FHA and UDOT simply provided a six-page memorandum at the meeting.

City officials say what the state has provided to the city as it relates to source documents has been woefully inadequate. "We asked for a bunch of source documents that were not provided," Farmington City Manager Dave Millheim told the Standard-Examiner.

Farmington is unwilling to accept UDOT and FHA not classifying three conservation easements as being protected properties, he said.

The three conservation easements, totaling about 300 acres, are west of the Farmington Ranches development, and run north to south along the city's entire western border.

Although the conservation easements are on private property, which can be bought and sold, Millheim said, any party owning those lands has to honor the easement.

The letter to the state and federal highway agencies from the law firm is a reminder this remains an unresolved issue, and if not addressed, puts the whole EIS at risk, Millheim said.

"We're aware of Farmington City's concerns, and we will continue to work with them throughout this process," UDOT spokesman John Gleason said Monday.

The draft EIS was completed in May, with the final decision to be made on the route expected to come by the end of this year, Gleason said.

But Farmington officials are concerned the state continues to buy up rights of way within the initial recommended 20-mile corridor.

"Why are we buying right of way for an alignment that has not be determined," Millheim said.

Buying land to build the proposed $587 million project continues, even though UDOT officials emphasize there is no guarantee the north-south road planned to stretch from Farmington to West Haven will ever be built.

The state Transportation Commission recently approved the purchase of 45 acres of undeveloped land at 1600 S. Angel St. in west Kaysville for corridor preservation.

The purchase price was $3 million, said Randy Jefferies, project manager for the West Davis Corridor Environmental Impact Statement.

The property is co-owned by Scott Herschi and Tod Jones, who approached the state requesting it buy their land after they discovered the proposed road route "impacts" their property, Jefferies said. Where this particular piece of west Kaysville property is located, he said, the alignment shows only a single route through the area, which would result in the property being impacted should the project move forward.

Farmington officials are concerned UDOT and FHA officials may some day have to stand before a judge and defend the corridor selected by pointing out that is where property has already been preserved, Millheim said. He said something he would liken to the state putting the cart before the horse.

"We are putting them on legal notice that we will defend our conservation easements to the full extent of what the law allows," he said.

"We're not debating that the highway may not be needed north of here. We're not trying to be obstructionist. We know the highway serves a purpose. We don't want to be the sticky-wicket in that," Millheim said.

But 20 years of city planning has put the conservation easements where they are, and for the state to say they don't matter, "we say, is very inappropriate," he said.

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

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