John Daley ReportingGive negotiations a chance. In essence that was the message from Governor Jon Huntsman today regarding the stalled Legacy Highway, currently the subject of discussions between road builders and conservation groups.
The comments are significant because lately the state has been sending very mixed messages. August 2005, nearly 10 years after it was first proposed, the Legacy Highway still looks like a road to nowhere.
With traffic congestion growing an agreement between state road builders and public interest groups looked like a done deal, then Utah's Congressional delegation, led by Senator Orrin Hatch, tried a secret legislative maneuver to stop any future lawsuits.
That failed, but today the Salt Lake Tribune reported UDOT, while negotiating with conservation groups and contrary to what they'd been saying, was helping that end run. Now those groups are fuming.
Roger Borgenicht, Utahns for Better Transportation: "We negotiated in good faith at the request of the governor and UDOT, and then we find they were perhaps double dealing when we developed trust. Now that's been shattered."
In 2002 a panel of three appeals court judges, all appointed by Republican presidents, unanimously ruled UDOT had violated federal environmental laws and that millions of dollars lost when the state began building before the court case was through was "self-inflicted" pain.
UDOT's leader denies the latest efforts are at all sneaky.
John Njord, UDOT Executive Director: "I think we've made it clear from the very start we're going to try to find a solution to this problem that we've got in Davis County, and we've made it very clear from the start that we will search out every alternative to try to find a solution."
Today, at his monthly press conference, the Governor suggested he reluctantly supported the back-room approach.
Gov. Jon Huntsman, (R) Utah: "Well, I didn't have much say in getting it done, it was something our legislators put forward. But I'll tell you I would support anything that would get Legacy accomplished."
He favors a negotiated settlement.
Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., (R) Utah: "I'm putting my trust behind those negotiations because I think they might yield something, I believe in bringing stakeholders to the table."
What now? Public interest groups say they want an explanation.
Roger Borgenicht, Utahns for Better Transportation: "We don't want to walk away. We want to have a method to get to a balanced transportation system."
Meantime, both sides know if there's no deal, Legacy could again end up in court. State lawmakers are still examining a possible deal and the negotiations, apparently, will go on.