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Calling Doug Owens "one of the extreme environmentalists," the Utah Republican Party is trying to soften up Rep. Mia Love's challenger and raise money in the process. Though so far Love and her campaign have refrained from directly attacking the Democrat in the competitive 4th District race.

The state party sent a fundraising email Thursday focused on Owens' role as an attorney in the 2001 lawsuit that blocked construction of the Legacy Parkway in west Davis County for five years.

"Doug's lawsuit delayed construction of Legacy Highway for years, costing taxpayers over $250 million. That's more than $500 per family," the email reads. "Doug Owens is one of the extreme environmentalists who fights against sensible economic progress at the expense of Utah families."

"We are just beginning," said James Evans, chairman of the Utah Republican Party. "We are going to make sure the voters truly understand the complete picture of Doug Owens."

Taylor Morgan, Owens' campaign strategist, responded by saying: "Doug stood up to powerful, well-financed corporate and government interests to make sure Utahns had a voice and that their rights were protected. As a result, we have a better and safer highway. Doug will take that same approach to Congress."

Owens was among a team of attorneys who represented Utahns for Better Transportation, arguing the highway near the Great Salt Lake should be abandoned and replaced with a train. Then-Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson and the Sierra Club joined the suit.

After five years of a court fight, the state and the environment groups reached a settlement. The highway could go forward as long as it was only four lanes, had a speed limit of 55 mph, banned big trucks, and used rubberized pavement to reduce noise. The state also had to set aside 125 acres of wetlands and fast-track a light rail line, now known as FrontRunner. The parkway opened in 2008.

From the time the lawsuit began to this settlement, the cost of Legacy grew by about $250 million.

In June, Evans and the state GOP criticized an ethics plan that Owens offered by bringing up his late father. In 1992, Rep. Wayne Owens was embarrassed for his involvement in a House banking scandal involving an overdrawn bank account. The FBI investigated, but found his actions were not criminal in nature.

Doug Owens called the criticism of his father: "The worst kind of politics."

The Republicans didn't go after Owens in his first contest against Love, which he lost by 5 percentage points, but political handicappers say their rematch is a tossup and a Salt Lake Tribune/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll found that Owens had a 6 percentage point lead.

Twitter: @mattcanham