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Public split on Legacy bill

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Utahns have mixed feelings about whether the state should sue Legacy Highway opponents for the delays in construction.

In a new Deseret News-KSL TV poll conducted by Dan Jones & Associates, 48 percent of those questioned said they definitely or probably favor a proposed law that would allow the state to sue those who delay construction of projects for damages.

Slightly fewer, or 45 percent, of those questioned said they probably or definitely oppose such a law.

Sen. Terry Spencer, R-Layton, is drafting a bill that would allow the state to recoup the costs as a result of a federal court order that has stalled construction of Legacy Parkway, a 14-mile stretch from Farmington to Salt Lake City.

Deseret News graphicDNews graphicLegacy legislation pollRequires Adobe Acrobat.

Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson, the Sierra Club and Utahns for Better Transportation are suing over the $451 million project. Last month, the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals granted an immediate injunction to halt the project until a court hearing in mid-March.

That has angered lawmakers, prompting Spencer to take a bill to the Legislature that would require anti-highway litigants to reimburse the state's costs should their legal action ultimately fail.

Opponents have called this a "bully bill." They say it resembles Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPP, which typically are filed by developers to squelch critics.

Spencer dismissed that, calling it a "loser-pays bill." The bill would apply to all projects that have received federal and state approval but are interrupted by opponents.

The federal court action came after bulldozers began moving dirt for three Legacy Parkway interchanges, including the southern connection with I-215 and the northern end at I-15 and U.S. 89 in Farmington.

In court documents, the Utah Department of Transportation argued delaying the highway project would cost taxpayers $92,500 a day. That's because UDOT agreed in its contract with Fluor Ames Kramer LLC that any costs incurred in a work stoppage as the result of court action must be borne by the state.

Transportation officials based the delay costs on having to pay all 282 Legacy workers while bulldozers are idle. But since the contractor has laid off 170 workers since the court's temporary injunction, that has reduced the delay cost to the state.

Still, it has lawmakers seeking retribution, even talking of punishing Anderson by withholding state money earmarked for city projects.

The Deseret News/KSL-TV poll of 405 Utahns was conducted Dec. 17-20 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

E-mail: donna@desnews.com