Rep Chris Stewart’s Bill Supporting A Northern Corridor Is A Step Closer

Rep Chris StewartST. GEORGE – A bill presented by Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, supporting the creation of the contested “northern corridor” passed out of committee Wednesday and now advances to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

The “Washington County, Utah, Public Lands Management Implementation Act” is a bill designating right-of-way for a northern transportation route and eased utility access through the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.

“This is a big win for my constituents in Washington County,” Stewart said in a statement Wednesday after the bill passed out of the House Committee on Natural Resources. “This bill will finally allow for further transportation development to accommodate growth in one of the fastest growing areas in the nation.”

The BLM plans “created an environment that made that impossible,” Renstrom said.  This 2016 file photo shows the draft version of resource management plans for Washington County’s two national conservation areas and the BLM St. George Field Office resource management plan was 1,100 pages long. The proposed final documents were released Aug. 30, 2016

This corridor is easing traffic issues in the St. George area but green groups are fighting to save the Desert Tortise area.  The only road at present that intersects this land is the Red Cliffs Blvd and to minimize the turtle’s demise, fencing was erected to restrict the turtle’s movement.  The same may be erected around the proposed highway.

It Is Unlawful To Touch, Harm, Harass, Or Collect Wild Desert Tortoises

Desert TortiseConservation groups, such as Conserve Southwest Utah and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, have objected to the concept of the northern corridor. A concern is that bisecting the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve will disrupt the ecosystem and possibly threaten the Mohave Desert Tortoise population that resides there.  But that’s not really true.

The desert tortoises live about 50 to 80 years; they grow slowly and generally have low reproductive rates. They spend most of their time in burrows, rock shelters, and pallets to regulate body temperature and reduce water loss. They are most active after seasonal rains and are inactive during most of the year. This inactivity helps reduce water loss during hot periods, whereas winter hibernation facilitates survival during freezing temperatures and low food availability. Desert tortoises can tolerate water, salt, and energy imbalances on a daily basis, which increases their life spans.

Millions Of Tax Dollars Go To Protect The Desert Tortise

Tortise FenceWild populations of tortoises must be managed effectively to minimize the spread of diseases, which includes research and education. Despite significant research being conducted on desert tortoises and disease, a considerable knowledge gap still exists in understanding how disease affects desert tortoise population dynamics. It is not known if the population would still decline if disease were completely absent from the system; are tortoises more susceptible to disease during draught conditions? How does a non-native diet impact a tortoise’s ability to ward off pathogens? What are the causes of immunity exhibited by some desert tortoises? The 2008 USFWS draft recovery plan suggests that populations of tortoises that are uninfected, or only recently infected, should likely be considered research and management priorities.

Red Hills PkwyTortoises are known to show resistance to disease in some areas, an effort to identify and maintain these individuals in the populations is essential. Furthermore, increasing research on the social behavior of these animals, and garnering a greater understanding of how behavior facilitates disease transmission would be advantageous in understanding rates of transmission. Finally, translocation of tortoises should be done with extreme caution; disease is typically furtive and moving individuals or populations of tortoises across a landscape can have unforeseen consequences.

St George Congestion Is Inevitable But The Northern Corridor Will Help

County and municipal officials have long argued that the northern corridor is needed to help ease severe congestion projected to come with increasing growth over the coming decades. Gov. Gary Herbert’s Office has estimated Washington County will have a population of nearly 235,000 by 2040.

According to County commissioner Renstron, “Right now our traffic’s not too bad, but as the area grows, traffic along St. George Boulevard and the northern part of Bluff Street, there will be so much traffic it will be gridlocked.”

Draft BLM is 1,100 Pages LongHowever, when the Bureau of Land Management released its draft resource management plans for the Beaver Dam and Red Cliffs national conservation areas in late 2015, they didn’t exactly allow for the possibility of the northern corridor.

The BLM plans “created an environment that made that impossible,” Renstrom said.  The draft version of resource management plans for Washington County’s two national conservation areas and the BLM St. George Field Office resource management plan was 1,100 pages long. The proposed final documents were released Aug. 30, 2016.
County officials and other involved parties have been meeting with the BLM on a regular basis to discuss the northern corridor and other areas of concern, Renstrom said. He added the county and BLM nonetheless have a good relationship and are working together to try and solve the issues at hand.

Critical For The Transportation Needs Of St. George And Washington County

“The proposed bill designates a four-lane highway through the NCA, circumventing all environmental and federal regulations protecting this area, subverting Congress’ basic intent stated in the 2009 Lands Bill,” the group said.

Despite objections from environmental advocacy groups, the bill’s passing out of committee is seen as a positive for the elected officials of Washington County and the City of St. George.

“We are very pleased that Congressman Chris Stewart’s bill was passed … by the House Committee on Natural Resources,” St. George Mayor Jon Pike said in a statement. “It is critical for the transportation needs of St. George and Washington County to have a northern corridor designated.”

Northern Transportation Route
Northern Transportation Route