[Source: Kerry Fehr-Snyder, Arizona Republic] -- The head of a prominent environmental group is calling a plan that would blast parts of the South Mountain Park for a proposed freeway "outrageous and irresponsible." Sandy Bahr, conservation outreach director for the Sierra Club's Grand Canyon chapter, said the group is disappointed that the proposed route for the 22-mile South Mountain Freeway would mean cutting a chunk out of three ridge lines in the 16,000-acre park. "From the Sierra Club's perspective, we're opposed to cutting through the preserve," she said Tuesday night at the group's monthly meeting. "It's really outrageous and irresponsible." The park is a wildlife corridor with various desert animals, including bobcats, javelina, tortoises, foxes, reptiles and squirrels. But none is protected under the Endangered Species Act, Bahr said. "There is a habitat for pygmy owls but no pygmy owls anymore," she said.
Doug Nintzel, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Transportation, said the cuts comprise a relatively small proportion - 32 of 16,000 acres - of the park and have long been anticipated in the design for the proposed freeway. "The cuts through the ridges would be designed to minimize the impact, and that's required as part of any project like this," he said. But Michael Goodman, a member of the Phoenix Mountains Preserve Council, said Phoenix should be preserving the park and fighting the state's powers of eminent domain to bulldoze it for the freeway. "It doesn't seem like a lot of land, but it really is," he said. The preserve runs south of Baseline Road starting at about 27th Avenue on the west and swinging eastward to 48th Street. ADOT has said that the most likely design would mean the removal of three ridge lines on the mountain. Construction crews would make cuts up to 20 stories deep and more than two football fields wide to make way for the 10-lane freeway. Goodman, who also serves on the South Mountain Citizens Advisory Team, said he is frustrated by the lack of information about freeway noise, the fate of animals, the visual impact and other environmental aspects to cutting through the mountain. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]