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Wasatch County Council says bypass and conservation goals can coexist

Utah Open Lands

As the Heber Valley continues to wait on plans for a western bypass road from the Utah Department of Transportation, Wasatch County leaders say they believe the road can be built while respecting conservation goals.

The Wasatch County Council has adopted a resolution stating it sees no inherent contradiction between building a bypass and working to preserve open space.

The bypass road, intended to draw traffic away from Heber City’s Main Street, has been in the works for years. It has been controversial in the county because some route options would go through the North Fields.

At a meeting Wednesday, May 15, councilmembers emphasized they want to collaborate with UDOT through the process.

“We want to be at the table to figure out how to resolve this,” Councilmember Mark Nelson said. “What we’re not saying is, ‘The only option we’ll accept is this one, and we did this conservation easement – we’ll show you.’ That’s the opposite of what we want to say.”

The county voted in March to place a conservation easement on some 200 acres of the North Fields, raising concerns that it could interfere with UDOT’s process.

With the resolution, councilmembers are asserting they value both conservation and construction.

“We’re trying to support the very high priority of protecting the North Fields and solving our traffic problems and dealing with our growth in a responsible way,” Nelson said. “These two things that seem to conflict [with] each other, in fact, there’s a process for working that out.”

Both city and county leaders have said they support making the bypass a scenic highway with open space surrounding it, as Councilmember Luke Searle reiterated at Wednesday’s meeting.

“Not only are they not diametrically opposed priorities, but we want them to align and create some synergy, so that when a bypass is built, it is one that doesn’t necessarily encourage development,” he said.

The council discussed whether to state preferences for specific routes in the resolution, but instead opted for more general language of support for both the bypass and the fields.

And Councilmember Steve Farrell said the resolution should emphasize leaders want to permanently safeguard the county’s rural character through conservation easements.

“What we want to do is preserve it into perpetuity,” he said.

UDOT is waiting for the results of a forthcoming traffic study from the Mountainland Association of Governments to assess which of five possible routes to construct, delaying progress until at least the end of this year.

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