Environmental Groups Contest Four Lane Highway Through Utah Conservation Area

A complaint filed in the District of Columbia District Court on Thursday asked the court to vacate the Northern Corridor Right-of Way and rule that the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated the Omnibus Public Land Management Act when granting permission for a four-lane highway to be built in a conservation area neighboring St. George, Utah.

The environmental groups who filed the lawsuit are Conserve Southwest Utah, Conservation Lands Foundation, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society, and WildEarth Guardians. They alleged that the planned Northern Corridor Highway, which is planned to be built through the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, an area which is also designated a critical habitat for the Mojave desert tortoise, would cause significant environmental harm. The complaint further contested decisions made by DOI and BLM to amend two land use plans related to the highway.

The conservation area was reportedly created by Congress in 2009 through the Omnibus Act, which further requires that the BLM will only use the land for “those uses that would ‘conserve, protect, and enhance’ these resources,” according to the complaint.  Despite this requirement, the plaintiffs alleged that the government approved a highway crossing 2.37 miles within the protected lands.

“Secretary Bernhardt’s approvals run headlong into the management mandates of Omnibus Act, together with our Nation’s bedrock environmental and cultural resource laws,” the plaintiffs purported. The groups further cited that the DOI and BLM had acknowledged that the Northern Corridor Highway would have adverse effects on the resources in the conservation area.

A map of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area from the complaint.
A map of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area from the complaint.

Additionally, the plaintiffs claimed that the defendants had not investigated impacts of the highway on “numerous land parcels” acquired by BLM for conservation that the highway will go through or next to. They alleged that the highway planned by the Utah Department of Transportation would violate the purpose of BLM acquiring the land. 

The groups further alleged that the defendants ignored both direct and indirect impacts on the environment from population growth and noise, completed an “inadequate environmental analysis,” and did not give sufficient weight to objections from the Hopi Tribe. 

A photograph of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, from the complaint.
A photograph of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, from the Bureau of Land Management.

“Secretary Bernhardt’s hasty approval of the Northern Corridor right-of-way and associated actions threatens irreparable environmental and other harms by Defendants’ unlawful actions, and Plaintiffs seek such emergency, preliminary, or permanent injunctive relief as necessary to forestall such irreparable harms and protect the public interest,” the complaint said. 

The plaintiffs are represented by Advocates for the West