SAINT GEORGE, UTAH – The Washington County Commission and County Attorney Eric Clarke announced a lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (the “Service”). The lawsuit alleges that the agencies improperly started a process to reconsider the Northern Corridor, which is a regional transportation route in Washington County. The BLM previously approved the Northern Corridor in 2021.

The unlawful reconsideration of the Northern Corridor was initiated after Washington County spent over $6 million in taxpayer funds to carry out extensive environmental conservation measures. The County had committed to these measures as part of the process to obtain the Northern Corridor right-of-way. Additionally, the Utah Department of Transportation has spent over $8.5 million in state funds on the Northern Corridor. After Washington County has spent years performing additional conservation measures for the Northern Corridor right of way, the Biden Department of Interior is taking steps to unwind it.

The Notice of Intent to Sue alleges that the Service violated Section 10 of the Endangered Species Act and the Service’s “No Surprises” Rule. The purpose of the Service’s No Surprises Rule is to provide assurance that after a permittee has entered into a Habitat Conservation Plan—as Washington County has—that the Service will not require additional conservation measures without the consent of the permittee. In violation of that rule, the Service is requiring additional conservation measures of Washington County without its consent. The Notice of Intent to Sue also alleges that the BLM and the Service improperly reinitiated consultation regarding the previously issued biological opinion on the Northern Corridor, because the only reason for the re-initiation was to comply with an out-of-court settlement agreement that was a backroom deal made with environmental groups. There are regulatory triggers that would allow for the re-initiation, but none of those were stated as reasons for the additional work.

According to County Attorney Eric Clarke, the actions of the Biden Administration are a breach of trust and a violation of the law. “In addition to the horrible biological path the Biden Department of Interior is taking, they are also burning the bridges built by decades of working together in good faith. Federal agencies are not above the law. The Biden Administration is openly violating the law in order to win political points with environmental groups in an election year.”

Washington County Commissioner Adam Snow said that the loss of the Northern Corridor would have negative impacts on traffic and would destroy federal partnerships with local government. According to Commissioner Snow, “we have worked openly and in good faith for decades with BLM and the Fish and Wildlife Service. This has produced remarkable outcomes for the community and for endangered species in the area. But we can’t continue to see them as partners if they are going to extract millions of dollars from us for conservation measures only to rescind the permit that was promised. This is government at its worst.”

With this action, the Washington County Attorney’s Office seeks a judicial declaration that the Service and the BLM improperly reinitiated consultation for the Northern Corridor, and the resulting amended biological opinion is illegal and invalid. The County urges the Service to reissue the biological opinion for the Norther Corridor. In the alternative, the County seeks a declaration that the County is no longer obligated to perform the extensive conservation measures that were committed in connection with the process to obtain the Northern Corridor right of way.

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