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UDOT agrees to meet activists — only without media

Published April 19, 2013 3:52 pm

Agency says placing conditions on discussion of proposed West Davis Corridor was a mistake.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Utah Department of Transportation told a group of Farmington residents this week that it would attend a town hall meeting and answer questions about the controversial proposed West Davis Corridor — but only if the news media were not invited.

Lori Kalt, president of SaveFarmington, says UDOT's no-media condition shows the agency is not being transparent and fair as it finishes its draft environmental impact statement for the project, which would extend the Legacy Parkway north through western Davis and Weber counties.

"UDOT knows that my group and many other special-interest groups oppose this highway being built through Farmington Bay," Kalt said, "and quite frankly they are afraid that if our voices are heard too loudly, they won't be able to build this highway."

UDOT spokesman Nile Easton acknowledges the agency told the group it would not attend the meeting if the media were invited but said that was a mistake made by a member of its West Davis Corridor team who violated UDOT policy.

Easton said when UDOT headquarters officials heard about that condition, he sent an email to its West Davis team Thursday — the same day the meeting took place — warning it "is not consistent with our policies of working to be as open as we can with the public and the media. Any time we meet with the public in a public meeting, our doors should be open to having media attend and observe."

Kalt said Friday her group had been trying to meet with UDOT officials for months to discuss its opposition to a route along the edge of the Great Salt Lake.

She said UDOT backed out of an earlier outdoor meeting in February, complaining it sounded more like a rally than a meeting. It agreed to Thursday's indoor meeting — but only if the media, other special-interest groups and Farmington officials were not invited. Also, emails show UDOT insisted that all questions be submitted in writing.

Kalt said her group agreed to those conditions to have the meeting but added that it received few answers at the meeting. "They were totally vague, totally dodged the questions or didn't even answer the questions. I heard a lot of, 'That answer will be provided in the draft EIS [environmental impact statement].' "

Kris Peterson, director of UDOT's Region One, told the Utah Transportation Commission this week that UDOT plans to release the EIS on the West Davis Corridor within a month and reveal then its preferred route. He also said the agency receives emails and comments daily on the project from concerned residents.

Kalt worries UDOT has chosen the alternative that her group opposes and is trying to rush the release before public opposition builds. She said she would like to see UDOT slow down and consider an alternative that various grassroots groups have proposed as a third alternative to two main ones that UDOT has said are being studied.

Easton said UDOT was hesitant to meet with groups because it is at a critical point with other government agencies to develop a preferred alternative and has little new to tell residents. He said the federal EIS process also limits what kind of contact UDOT may have.