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Legacy: road or nature job?

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After officials of the Utah-based Army Corps of Engineers criticized his new plan to save a preferred Legacy Highway route, Gov. Mike Leavitt decided to take it directly to the Pentagon.

"I wanted to ensure that certain decisionmakers heard directly from us," Leavitt said Thursday after a meeting with Joseph Westphal, assistant secretary of the Army for public works."They assured us that they have received the proposal, and that no decision has been made, contrary to what some have suggested," Leavitt said.

Earlier this week, Leavitt announced he is creating a "Legacy Land Preserve and Parkway" to protect a 1,600-acre strip of wetlands in the Great Salt Lake's Farmington Bay. The controversial Legacy Highway would form its eastern boundary.

That could help show the Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency that the highway is part of state plans to protect wetlands and that the road would not hurt them but help them, Leavitt believes.

However, Brooks Carter, the local Corps official who indicated the road project would likely be denied based on preliminary documents, said the state's new maneuver likely won't change his position.

"If they had a history of (preserving land), or had done this at the very beginning, there could be a chance," Carter said earlier. "But you've got to ask why this is the first we have heard about it."

Leavitt said in Washington that he is trying to show that the road is a critical element in a state project to protect Great Salt Lake wetlands by forming a boundary to development.

"This is not a road, it's a project. This is the Legacy Nature Preserve, and the road is to support the project," Leavitt said. "We think the project is critical to the preservation of those wetlands and that open space."

But environmental groups, such as the Nature Conservancy of Utah and the Sierra Club, support Carter's preliminary decision to reject the proposal.

The Nature Conservancy contends Leavitt's plan violates sections of the Clean Water Act, because it will cross a flood plain. Also, it disrupts the Davis County Wetlands Plan, which was developed locally and functions as a guide for wetlands development, the group says.

Nina Dougherty, chair of Utah's Sierra Club, said Leavitt's efforts to package the road as a parkway and nature preserve is just "putting a different label on the same package."

An overall sense of community will be affected by the proposal, with air quality diminished and divided farmland, Dougherty said.

Leavitt said he realizes that the proposal is much different from normal roads that the Corps of Engineers is asked to review.

"This calls for broader vision. We've got to look at the ecosystem, not just one strip of wetlands," he said.