November 21, 2005

Venable Represents State of Utah in Historic Settlement with Sierra Club and Other Groups, Allowing Construction of Controversial Legacy Parkway Without Further Delay

5 min

Washington DC/Salt Lake City, Utah (November 21, 2005) – The State of Utah has entered into an historic settlement with the Sierra Club and other environmental groups for the construction of the Legacy Parkway in northern Utah. The settlement allows for the immediate construction of a much needed roadway in harmony with environmental protection of wetlands along the shores of the Great Salt Lake.

“This settlement marks an important milestone for the people of Utah and sets an example of how environmental and development issues can be resolved in a manner that benefits parties on both sides of the table,” said Margaret N. Strand, counsel for the State of Utah. Ms. Strand is a partner in the environmental practice group at the Washington, D.C. law firm Venable LLP.

Ms. Strand, who negotiated the settlement for the state, was appointed as a Special Assistant Attorney General to the State of Utah for purposes of representing the state in the Legacy Parkway cases because of her experience with wetlands and other environmental laws. Ms. Strand served as the former Chief of the Environmental Defense Section in the U.S. Department of Justice, Environmental and Natural Resources Division, from 1984 to 1991. While in the Department of Justice, Ms. Strand also worked on federal environmental policy issues involving Congress, as well as executive branch entities.

“This has been a tough process but we are pleased with the outcome,” said Utah Department of Transportation Director John Njord. “The end result will be a safe and efficient roadway that will provide much needed congestion relief in Northern Utah.”

The Legacy Parkway had pitted activists in Utah against the administration of Governor Jon M. Huntsman, Jr., the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration and the Army Corps of Engineers, resulting in a series of consolidated lawsuits against the state.  The settlement was negotiated over a 10-month period and signed into law by the governor on November 14, 2005 after being approved by a Special Session of the Utah Legislature on November 9, 2005. The planned road will cost an estimated $685 million to build.

When completed, the Legacy Parkway will be a 14-mile, four-lane byway in South Davis County. The primary purpose of the road is to relieve congestion on I-15, which is the main roadway through Salt Lake City and its adjoining counties. Congestion on I-15, in the view of many Utahns, has impeded growth and development of the Salt Lake City metropolitan area.

Plans for the controversial road began nearly 10 years ago. Soon after the plans were announced, a coalition of environmental and political groups began opposing the plans. Led by the Sierra Club and several local Utah organizations, the groups sued under federal wetlands and environmental laws and obtained an injunction in 2001, halting the construction of the parkway. The main plaintiffs in the consolidated suit were the Sierra Club, Utahns for Better Transportation, The League of Women Voters of Salt Lake, Friends of Great Salt Lake, Future Moves Coalition and Great Salt Lake Audubon. Activists had raised objections to the 14-mile road, citing its proximity to wetland habitat along the Great Salt Lake, a part of the Pacific flyway for migratory birds.  The state and local communities had long planned this roadway to ease congestion on I-15 and serve the growth of communities north of Salt Lake City.  The lawsuit raised significant issues under the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.  While Utah prevailed on most issues, the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit found a few errors, stopped the project, and remanded the Legacy Parkway for additional environmental studies.

The settlement ends the litigation, so that the Utah Department of Transportation may proceed with contracting and constructing the parkway.  The settlement includes several major components: (1) the Legacy Nature Preserve, a 2,100-acre wetland and wildlife preserve west of and adjacent to the Legacy Parkway, will be supplemented with an additional 121 acres of preservation land; (2) the state will accelerate funding of a bus rapid transit environmental study, providing $2.5 million and initiating the study prior to 2008; (3) a Dispute Resolution and Avoidance Process will be established to allow for facilitated dispute resolution over transportation and environmental controversies before they lead to litigation; and (4) the Legacy Parkway will be a landmark, 21st century parkway consistent with its context adjacent to the Legacy Nature Preserve.

Under the Settlement Agreement, the Legacy Parkway will have

  • no billboards
  • no large trucks, as defined in state law
  • special noise reducing pavement
  • a posted speed limit of 55 MPH

The Legacy Parkway design will use special “Principles of Parkway Design,” that include

  • landscaping and species selection for landscaping that take into consideration ecological effects and the impact that species and landscaping could have on the Legacy Nature Preserve
  • meander and curvature of the travel lanes within the right of way and the entrance ramps that will be used to protect wetlands and other sensitive habitats, consistent with safety and engineering considerations
  • shoulder treatments that will assist in maintaining a sense of place consistent with a parkway adjacent to the Legacy Nature Preserve, including where possible, minimizing the optical width of the road by, for example, design techniques such as a narrower paved portion of the shoulder or use of an alternative paving color or surface

One of the American Lawyer’s top 100 law firms, Venable LLP has attorneys practicing in all areas of corporate and business law, complex litigation, intellectual property and government affairs. Venable serves corporate, institutional, governmental, nonprofit and individual clients throughout the U.S. and around the world from its headquarters in Washington, D.C. and offices in California, Maryland, New York and Virginia.