Pave paradise, and put up a parking lot….

Joni Mitchell.  How appropriate for this crucial issue….and how true.  You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.

I live along the Jordan River myself and enjoy what it offers me – a place to walk or bike without the burden of traffic, beautiful scenery and habitat, serenity at times, and joy in watching families enjoy what I am enjoying as well.

Last week I posted a piece about Salt Lake City moving forward to build a huge Sports Complex along the Jordan River which will be detrimental to the riparian habitat in the targeted location.  The Salt Lake Tribune has now come out in opposition of the location targeted for the complex.

A packed City Council meeting last Tuesday held citizens from "both sides" of the issue.  Tonight there is another council meeting which folks should plan to attend to have their voices heard.

Upon reading the articles about this issue I have been saddened by the attacking comments to the articles by proponents of the location of the complex towards those who oppose it.  I do not think it is the complex itself that is the issue.  It is the location.  There needs to be another location found that will not hurt the habitat along the river.

Ray Wheeler of the Jordan River Restoration Project has asked that the contents of his message below be forwarded on.  He offers factual information and passioned sentiment.  I share his sentiments.   Please read, digest, and forward on to as many as possible.

JordanRiverFloodplainBeforeAfter_6.5inW_100pxPerIn copy.jpg


(Aerial photos:  Jordan River floodplain at 6200 South in 1937 and today)


Jan. 11, 2009

Friends of the Jordan River, open space and wild nature,

You will not often hear the editorial board of a major metropolitan newspaper say something like this:


“We have been unabashed supporters of locating Salt Lake City’s new soccer complex at 2200 North on the Jordan River. But we have been wrong.

Opponents of that location make a strong case that it should be reclaimed as a nature preserve, one of the last opportunities of its kind and size on public land on the Jordan.

So, despite all the work Mayor Ralph Becker’s administration has done in acquiring the Jordan River site from the state and completing preliminary design of the soccer complex, we believe the City Council should not approve the issuance of $15.3 million in general obligation bonds for the first phase of the project. Instead, it should press the administration to look elsewhere for a location.”  –Salt Lake Tribune, 1/8/09,


What made the Tribune reverse its position?   Two things.

First, a team of six citizen activists gave the Tribune editorial board a deep briefing on the project and the proposed site, pointing out that:

·         The property has been repeatedly flooded throughout recorded history and has been under water for several years at a time

·         Due to the extremely high costs of building in a floodplain on an awkwardly-shaped piece of land up against a winding river across which a new bridge must be built for access from the east, the project is now 71 percent over budget even after being reduced by over 30 percent in size.

·         There is no public transit to the proposed site

·         The site is far from the center of Salt Lake City or Salt Lake Valley

·         Due to its history of flooding the site has been repeatedly recommended, in at least four major open stakeholder planning initiatives throughout the past forty years, to be reserved as flood water banking area, a nature park, native plant and wildlife area, and/or nature education center.  It is classified as open space in the Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County Master plans.

·         Over ten years ago Tree Utah began restoration of native plant species on this site by planting over 18,000 native trees and shrubs.

·         It’s the largest remaining undeveloped block of unprotected, publicly-owned riparian habitat along the entire length of the Jordan River

·         Lowlands riparian habitat is the most biologically diverse and rich type of wildlife habitat in Utah

·         This 160 acre piece of ground is a stepping stone of critical migratory bird habitat along an international migratory bird flyway; it is a precious remnant of our natural heritage, a critical link in a chain of life running from the Arctic to Central America.

·         During the span of a single lifetime there has been a catastrophic loss of open space and wildlife habitat throughout our valley.   Wildlife is disappearing rapidly, worldwide, because wildlife habitat is being annihilated wholesale in exactly this way.   We all know, from our own direct experience, this profound truth.

·         The fate of this land will stand as an object lesson and template for the future of the entire Jordan River corridor and indeed for the future of all open space in Salt Lake Valley.   Salt Lake County and the 15 cities up and down the river just completed a two-year long, $300,000 study called “Blueprint Jordan River” to develop a vision for the future of the entire corridor.   The public was extensively surveyed and overwhelmingly endorsed a vision for a green and natural corridor—NOT more massive commercial installations within the flood plain!   If Salt Lake City now trashes its own largest and best remaining fragment of riparian open space, why should the other 14 cities not do the same with their own remaining fragments of open space?

The second thing that reversed the polarity of the Salt Lake Tribune—and caused an unexpected delay of two weeks in what would otherwise have been an automatic rubber stamp of approval for the project funding in last week’s City Council meeting—was a massive demonstration of opposition to this particular site by the public at large.

Some 60 open space advocates packed the City Council hearing room and about 30 of them spoke for two minutes each, tying up the city council meeting for a full hour with an outpouring of public support for preservation of open space and wild nature.


Photo:  city officials present case for soccer complex in a packed hearing room

Your letters, emails, petition signatures, phone calls, your physical presence and eloquent statements in last week’s public hearing made a powerful impression on the media and the politicians.

If Salt Lake City  sets the  right example instead of the wrong one in making this site selection, it will be because an informed public stood up to be counted in defense of what little remains of wild nature right here in our own back yard.

Your actions bought a two-week reprieve before a definitive city council vote now scheduled for Tuesday January 19.   To succeed we must make the most of that hard-won opportunity.

If you wish to speak directly to our city council in defense of open space and wildlife habitat on this site, your last opportunity will be the upcoming city council meeting on January 10 (comments on this issue will not be accepted in the following meeting on Jan. 19 prior to the vote.)

Nothing makes so much of an impression as your physical presence and personal voice in a public hearing.

If you were not able to attend last week’s hearing, (OR if you WERE…) please consider attending the upcoming City Council Meeting beginning at–


7:00 pm Tuesday January 12

Salt Lake City-County building

451 South State (room 315)

(Fill out a card at the meeting room entrance if you want to speak.  Anyone can hand in written comments at the meeting.)

If you can’t attend the meeting you can still make a huge impact by calling your city council member and Mayor Becker to express your concerns about the proposed siting of the Sports Complex on the Jordan River.   A barrage of phone calls today and tomorrow will have a salutary effect.


  • Say that you object to the location of the sports complex.
  • Recommend that the Council deny the Administration’s request for additional funding, approval of project plan & release of Prop 5 bond — to give time for review of problems & issues regarding the project.
  • Once the issues are resolved, then the Administration can re-present the project for the Council’s reconsideration.  

Council’s comment line:  801/535-7654.  Include your name, address, contact number, email.

Mayor’s comment line:  801/535-7704

Then send written comments to your council person with these points, so they will go into the record.  List all of these points:

  • 1.  Ask for a Blue Ribbon committee to find a suitable alternative that meets the needs of the soccer constituents.
  • 2.  Ask that the Administration’s budget amendment request not be approved.

                        A.  Do not approve $41,000 requested for design work
                        B.  Do not approve the final design & scope of work for Prop 5 facility
                        C.  Do not approve a location for the Prop 5 facility

  • 3.  Do not approve the release, issuance or sale of the Prop 5 bond at this time.
  • 4.  Remand the Prop 5 project back to the Planning Commission for a review of compliance & consistency with the city’s General Plan & zoning ordinances.

Salt Lake City Mayor Becker:

Salt Lake City Council:



1.      Cut & paste the points given above onto the City Council’s comment page:

(Select the Regional Athletic Complex issue.)

Send these comments to Mayor Becker:

2.) Contact SL County Mayor Corroon:

  • Let him know we are opposed to the County’s involvement with the City’s proposed sports complex because of the location & loss of open space on the Jordan River.  
  • Encourage Mayor Corroon to facilitate a suitable solution for the soccer community.  
  • Salt Lake County has vast experience designing, building & managing large recreation facilities. We recommend that the County step up & take an active role in rehabilitating the West Jordan Soccer Complex to provide tournament-grade fields & to work with funding partners to make this happen.

Email Mayor Corroon:

3.)  Please forward this email widely.  Email viralization has been a powerful tool for message dissemination.

4.)  Utilize our Facebook page to help get out the word

5.)  Sign the online petition, if you haven’t already signed:

6.)  Join the Jordan River Restoration Network to stay updated:

(Registering as a member of our web site will also provide you access to the most powerful and user-friendly interactive web design platform on the planet—for free!)

For more info:

Don’t miss the two Catalyst articles in the January issue:

Contact Jordan River Restoration Network:



This email alert has already violated every rule in the book about “keeping it simple”, tidy and focused.  So in the experimental spirit of this wildly quixotic political campaign, I will make it still longer just for the hell of it.

I’m writing here at 4:48 am Monday morning from a room in the Huntsman Cancer Hospital where my dear friend Lance Christie has just been told that his pancreatic cancer has metastasized into his liver and intestine walls.

I’m sitting on the edge of a cot with my laptop balanced on a waste basket.  In the background Lance’s exotic, space-aged life support monitoring systems click and mutter contentedly while Lance himself dozes, perhaps dreaming of life after life.

My friend’s entire adult life has been devoted to preservation of life on earth and to the betterment of society and community.   In Lance’s mind, the health of the environment and of human civilization are intimately related.  Just as wildlife cannot survive without habitat, human civilization cannot now survive without a concerted global effort to rescue the foundational support systems of life on earth.

The situation, Lance and I agree, is dire.  We are both horrified at the accelerating rate at which our planet’s “natural capital” is being liquidated.    Not only are Mexico-sized blocks of forest being annihilated every year, but grasslands have been turned to dust, the vast oceans are literally being sterilized, “dead zones” the size of New Jersey roam the oceans, streams are no longer safe to drink and the air itself is in many places so toxic as to be deadly (in the U.S. more people now die annually of air pollution than in auto accidents.)

Question:  is all of this really NECESSARY?

Lance and I don’t think so.

Is it desirable?  Certainly not.   Is it survivable?  Hell no.

Well then my friends, why the hell not DO something about it?  Why not get up, stand-up, speak out, take action!

This 160 acres of Jordan River bottom land is a small and relatively trivial piece of ground but its symbolic importance is very high.

Here’s what’s happening:  our city planners coolly propose to liquidate the largest remaining piece of our city’s natural heritage in order to build a $43 million commercial sporting facility consisting of 21 sports fields, a forest of stadium-type lighting, 9 buildings including indoor and outdoor soccer stadiums, parking for 1,700 cars, 3 new roads and a new bridge across the Jordan River—ALL WITHIN A KNOWN FLOODPLAIN THAT HAS REPEATEDLY BEEN FLOODED THROUGHOUT RECORDED HISTORY.

When the land floods again, probably with saline water as the Great Salt Lake periodically rises, moving upstream from the river’s mouth to inundate this site, Salt Lake City taxpayers will have to pay—again and again– to completely re-turf the entire complex and to rehabilitate the flooded buildings.

Project cost was grossly underestimated by Salt Lake City and by the Youth Soccer Association for which this taxpayer-funded monstrosity represents a massive subsidy.   It was sold to the taxpayers with the promise that for an investment of $15.3 million of taxpayer money, together with a $7.5 million “gift” from the Real Salt Lake soccer team (we contributed far more than that to fund the team’s stadium in Sandy) the city would build a sports complex consisting of 25 (originally 30) soccer fields and 8 (originally billed as 16) baseball fields.  Now we hear that just 17 soccer fields and 4 baseball diamonds will cost $39 million (not counting land acquisition costs.)

The cost per soccer field is now between two and three times the average cost per field in sports complexes around the country.  Why?  BECAUSE THE SITE IS WITHIN A RIVER FLOOD PLAIN.  It is awkwardly shaped, must be levitated by at least two feet to qualify for flood insurance, and has no second route of egress to the east except by building a multimillion dollar bridge over the Jordan River.

If any small businessman tried to operate this way his business would be blown to bits within months by inexorable market forces.  Governments can indulge in this sort of inefficiency only when citizens become comatose.

Are we THAT comatose?  Are we so drugged and cowed that we don’t even care?

I don’t think so.  I certainly am not.

My friends and neighbors who live along the Jordan River or paddle, run and bike along it are mad as hell and we’re not going to give up or back down.  We intend to make a “federal case” out of this tomorrow night at city hall at 7:00 pm.  Please join us once again.

If you weren’t able to make it down to city hall before now your presence will be even more valuable because we need some fresh faces and the appearance of momentum.

Ray Wheeler


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