Farmers plant corridor idea with UDOT

Mar 17 2011 - 9:03pm

LAYTON -- Farmers in Weber and Davis counties aren't alone in their fight to get the Utah Department of Transportation to change course on the West Davis Corridor.

The Utah Farm Bureau Federation has officially called for UDOT to reconsider its proposed alternatives for the planned corridor because of its potential impact on long-standing farmland.

The bureau says UDOT hasn't properly considered the impacts the alternatives will have on many farms in the two counties. Several are century farms, meaning they have been in continuous family ownership and use for more than 100 years, and each farm plays a role in preserving critical open space and wetlands habitat, the bureau says.

"The irony of this decision is that UDOT is afraid of impacting some wetlands in the area, so they will destroy the economic livelihood of farmers instead," said Leland Hogan, president of the Farm Bureau.

"What UDOT doesn't understand is that the wetlands along the east shore of the Great Salt Lake depend heavily on the return flows from these farms to actually recharge these wetlands in the first place. You cut through these farms and you're going to cut off the wetlands."

UDOT should reconsider a route for the road that was identified in a 2001 study conducted by the Wasatch Front Regional Council, said Randy Parker, chief executive officer of the Farm Bureau.

UDOT statistics say the 2001 alignment would affect 144.5 acres of wetlands, while UDOT's final three options would affect 20.9 acres at most.

Parker thinks UDOT's decision to abandon its earlier supported route is based solely on the fear of affecting 144 acres of wetlands, but noted that an engineering analysis by Layton-based Pinnacle Engineering and Land Surveying Inc. found that approximately 105 of the 144 acres deemed wetlands in UDOT's study are not actually wetlands under the U.S. Department of Agriculture and National Resources Conservation Service.

"We have found several properties that were classified as wetlands by UDOT's study that have been recently studied by others and either been determined not to be wetlands or only a small percentage of the parcel was determined to be wetland," according to a statement from Pinnacle.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has the responsibility of delineating wetlands, and West Davis Corridor Project Manager Randy Jeffries said state biologists correctly identified the federally protected wetlands through the proposed 24-mile corridor.

Several criteria besides the presence of water, such as vegetation, are used in determining wetlands.

Jeffries said the 2001 alignment was taken off the board because the federal Clean Water Act requires that wetlands be avoided when building a road, and if they can't be avoided, impacts must be mitigated.

Parker and the Farm Bureau maintain that wetlands can be more easily mitigated than farmland.

Parker also said the Farm Bureau has met with Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, to discuss the issue and that they have the congressman in their corner.

"(Bishop) has offered to pass along some of their concerns to UDOT," said Bishop spokesman Scott Parker.

"Right now, it's predominantly a state issue, but eventually there could be a federal role, and if there are any appropriate places where (Bishop) can help, he would."

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