Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, says the U.S. Interior Department is "distasteful, callous and wrong" for trying to protect Great Salt Lake wetlands by opposing a West Davis Corridor freeway route that state officials say would save the most homes and businesses.
He wrote Interior Secretary Sally Jewell saying her department should come to Utah to "explain to the homeowners, face to face, why their homes are less important than a few acres of wetlands."
But critics say that while Bishop purports that residents want a route that begins at Glover Lane in Farmington, he ignores opposition by neighbors there and by Farmington City officials — who live outside his district. Residents living just inside his district north of a Shepard Lane alternative for the freeway would be hurt if the route changed to there.
Bishop sent the blistering letter this week in response to Interior recently warning that the freeway route preferred by the Utah Department of Transportation would irreparably harm Great Salt Lake wetlands important to migratory birds. Interior urged officials to consider instead a proposal by critics to avoid building a freeway by improving existing roads and mass transit instead.
Interior also opposed the current proposal to begin the freeway — which would act as northwest extension of Legacy Parkway — at Glovers Lane instead of Shepard Lane. Interior said the Glovers Lane option "would be significantly more damaging to GSL shore land wetland and wildlife habitats."
That infuriated Bishop because UDOT figures that option would save more homes and businesses. Bishop also contends that option will not harm more wetlands than other alternatives.
He wrote that Interior "advocates for a corridor that would prioritize wetlands and destroy homes. ... People, children and their homes should take precedence over wetlands."
Bishop added that Interior as "an outsider in this process from the beginning, failed to consider the full impacts of the Shepard Lane option," such as relocating Haight Creek, which he said would hurt the environment and flood management.
Bishop said Interior’s action "is another example of Washington, D.C., thinking that ‘D.C. knows best’ and that western states are incapable of managing themselves."
Bishop also contended that Davis and Weber counties are growing fast, and "doing nothing is simply not an option. Roads and highways are engines for economic growth and job creation." But he said Interior’s analysis "disregarded local input and did not consider local community values."
Todd Jenson, a lawyer working with Save Farmington, which has opposed the freeway, said, "I can tell you that residents of Farmington — who are not in Congressman Bishop’s district — don’t appreciate him inserting himself into plans that are going to affect our lives. He’s not our congressman. He should butt out."
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, represents most of Farmington, and Bishop represents areas north of it — and Shepard Lane forms part of the boundary between their districts.
Jenson noted the city of Farmington itself has opposed the freeway and the Glovers Lane route.
"Congressman Bishop is insensitive to the negative effects of the freeway — the air pollution and the costs," said Jenson. "Clearly he [Bishop] doesn’t know the area and doesn’t know the issues. The alignment they chose damages more wetlands than any other, and his letter refers to it as a small percentage of wetlands."
While also speaking on behalf the broader Shared Solution Coalition of community and environmental groups opposing the freeway, Jenson said the coalition believes "the freeway as a whole is unnecessary and is a waste of federal and state tax dollars. It’s only going to be used between 20 and 40 percent [of capacity] in 30 years from now."
He added, "There are a lot of other things we need besides freeways. Freeways are only going to create more air pollution."
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