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Federal judge declines to stop work on Uintah County road

Published October 3, 2012 2:01 pm

Courts • SUWA wanted environmental assessment redone.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A federal judge on Wednesday rejected an environmental group's bid to stop work on a remote road in Uintah County.

U.S. District Court Judge David Nuffer said interrupting work on portions of Seep Ridge Road, as requested by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, would result in a "checkerboard" of improved and unimproved road surfaces that would be hazardous to drivers and do little to protect wildlife or air quality.

Seep Ridge Road begins just south of Ouray and continues to the Uintah County boundary line, just north of the Book Cliffs in Grand County. Some sections are already paved and much of preparatory work to finish the estimated $85 million project, is complete.

SUWA sought a temporary restraining order to stop work on about eight miles of federal land contained in a 16-mile segment of the route, arguing that the Bureau of Land Management did not fully comply with the National Environmental Policy Act when it issued a permit for the project. SUWA conceded the public land is not contiguous and that work would continue on other pieces of private and state land that are interspersed in the segment.

Contractors expected to finish clearing, grading and clean-up work on the contested section by Dec. 1, according to attorneys for the county and a special service district involved in the project.

Nuffer said stopping work on the public sections of the route would create a road of varying widths, surfaces and speed standards. That would create hazardous driving conditions and road maintenance challenges, the judge said. He also said that energy exploration in the area is driving increased traffic on Seep Ridge Road — not road improvements.

SUWA said the project threatens a sensitive, arid landscape and wildlife habitat in an area considered "one of the best hunting destinations in North America."

brooke@sltrib.com