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Wasatch County strategizes as agriculture protection areas could complicate highway bypass work

[FILE] Land in the Heber Valley North Fields is eligible for agricultural protections. That could conflict with plans to potentially build a highway bypass road there.
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[FILE] Land in the Heber Valley North Fields is eligible for agricultural protections. That could conflict with plans to build a highway bypass.

As Heber Valley landowners request agricultural protections on their farms, Wasatch County Council members said they may need to work with them and the state to be sure a highway bypass remains possible.

In a regular meeting Wednesday, Council Chair Spencer Park said the council may need to clarify a recent ordinance that affects the planned highway bypass around Heber City.

Late last year, the county created a new option for farmers in the North Fields, where the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) is considering putting the bypass. The option allows property owners to apply for agricultural protection, which could safeguard their property from being used for a bypass through eminent domain.

But Park said he’s worried that agriculture protection areas could be a barrier to UDOT’s bypass efforts.

“I am all for having agriculture protection on the north route,” he said, “but I don't want to do anything that would inhibit the opportunity for us to have the belt route portion, and I feel like this does.”

UDOT is reviewing five routes for a U.S. Highway 40 bypass around Heber City. Two of those, pictured right and labeled WB-3 in orange and WB-4 in blue, have drawn the ire of residents who say they would damage one of the Heber Valley's cherished open-space areas.
UDOT is reviewing five routes for a U.S. Highway 40 bypass around Heber City. While some designs connect to U.S. Highway 40 just north of Heber City, others would build a road to the U.S. 40-River Road intersection.

Councilman Steve Farrell said he didn’t think it was necessary to make a change to the agriculture protection area boundary. He said he’d prefer the county work with the property owners whose land could be within the eventual road alignment and the state on a case-by-case basis.

The majority of the council agreed, voting 5 to 2 against making any changes. Park and Luke Searle voted against the measure to change nothing.

Searle was one of several council members who stressed that the county does support UDOT’s bypass project in general, even if not all of its proposals.

“I think generally that a bypass is helping the future citizens of this county, moving forward,” Searle said. “Look at the [environmental impact] study that shows that if we do nothing, that there's 2.3 miles of traffic southbound. That means if you want to try to get into Heber City without a bypass, you're going to be at the UVU-Wasatch campus and sitting there if there's nothing done.”

Councilman Mark Nelson said the county should work with the state and landowners. He supported letting UDOT complete its study, then reacting to the plans by working individually with North Fields residents however the council may see fit.

“[UDOT is] going to say where the road is, potentially, and then we're going to have to deal with that,” he said. “My recollection is when we started this process, it was to help these landowners protect their land from the potential incursion of this road. We particularly had our eye on those other alternatives, not the traditional route.”

County Planning Director Doug Smith said so far, three property owners have requested such protection. They’ll meet with the planning commission, then the council for approval.

Last week, UDOT project manager Craig Hancock said he could announce the preferred bypass design late this summer. That won’t be the final decision but is one of the steps in UDOT’s process to complete the study.

UDOT officials have said after the study is over and a final decision is made, construction may not begin for up to a decade. That’s because funding is already allocated to many other state road projects.

A video recording of the meeting is available at wasatch.utah.gov.

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