On April 28th, the Interior Board of Land Appeals issued an order dismissing an appeal filed by Washington County, the City of St. George, and the Washington County Water Conservancy District that challenged the recently finalized Resource Management Plans for the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Areas.
The appellants primarily challenged the BLM’s decision to designate portions of the conservation areas as “exclusion areas”—a designation that would prohibit new rights-of-way such as roads, power lines, or pipelines. The challenge was specifically focused on the Northern Corridor, a proposed east-west travel corridor that would bisect critical desert tortoise habitat in the Red Cliffs conservation area (background information about the transportation corridor can be found here). The appellants also challenged the ability of the BLM to regulate where new water infrastructure could be located throughout both conservation areas.
While the Board’s action terminates an appeal that, if successful, would undermine the purpose of the national conservation area designations, it nevertheless leaves St. George and Washington County taxpayers on the hook for an estimated $9,500 to $14,000 in legal fees.
Although SUWA successfully intervened in the case on behalf of the BLM, the Board dismissed the appeal on the grounds that it concerned issues outside the Board’s “authority to adjudicate.” The Board took this action on its own accord, prior to any briefing on the case by SUWA, the BLM, or other interveners in the case.
The two conservation areas—both located in Utah’s southwestern corner—were created to “conserve, protect, and enhance . . . the ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreational, cultural, historical, natural, educational, and scientific resources” of the designated lands. Additionally, the Red Cliffs conservation area was established to protect threatened and endangered species like the desert tortoise. The BLM was required to develop management plans to accomplish these purposes, which were released on December 21, 2016.
The Board’s decision will prevent the sought-after projects from moving forward for now, but SUWA will continue to follow any developments and will keep you updated if and when they occur.