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West Valley City • City officials struggled Monday to find a new location for reptile expert Jim Dix and his hundreds of snakes, lizards and other wild animals, by offering him temporary access to the city's old animal shelter.

The abandoned shelter, at 4063 S. 7200 West in West Valley City, was put forward as a temporary home for Dix's Reptile Rescue Services while he works through a city application process to move permanently to a more rural locale being offered by Kennecott Utah Copper.

Dix — who is being forced from his West Valley home by the Utah Department of Transportation to make way for the Mountain View Corridor transit project — is taking issue with several city conditions on his use of the facility.

In a frequently testy meeting Monday at City Hall, the 52-year-old reptile expert said he feared the city's proposal might ultimately allow officials to seize and euthanize his collection of animals.

"You want control of those animals so you can destroy them if I'm not out of there in 90 days," Dix told Assistant City Manager Paul Isaac. "Do you have any idea how bad you'd look on that?"

Isaac said the city was proposing the old shelter site as a way to buy time while officials sort through a long list of challenges Dix faces in complying with housing, business and zoning regulations to secure a final site.

Reptile Rescue Services has evolved since it was first approved, Isaac said, changing from a rescue operation — in which venomous snakes, large lizards and rescued mammals such as coyotes and raccoons were to be adopted or relocated — into a permanent sanctuary for scores of threatening species.

Dix, one of the few Utahns licensed to handle rattlesnakes, now has more than 500 abandoned, seized or injured reptiles and mammals in his care, most of them considered dangerous. He has a long track record of working with scores of municipal and private shelters, police agencies and animal-control officers statewide to rescue creatures nobody else is prepared to handle.

Many of his 200 or so "permanent residents," as Dix calls them, are kept on-hand for training law enforcement officers as well as community outreach and education.

City officials say Dix must file a formal application detailing his intentions for a proposed facility on Kennecott land. While promising expedited review, Isaac said final approval will be up to planning and zoning officials and the City Council — and they might force new rules to be written to cover the facility.

"We have no zoo ordinance," said Isaac. "We can't just waive our existing laws."

Isaac said city officials would need control over the animals while they are housed at the city-owned shelter site to guarantee public safety and to avoid a stalemate later if Dix can't find a permanent locale.

The city also wants him to stop accepting new animals while he's at the shelter site, another condition Dix said could be a deal-breaker.

The increasingly desperate negotiations go on as several deadlines loom.

Officials for UDOT have needed Dix out of his home — with its rooms piled to the ceiling with aquariums and cages — since May 31. The agency already has relocated residents and torn down more than 40 other homes, between 3500 and 4500 South on about 5700 West, to make way for preliminary utility work.

Kennecott officials are impatient in their offer of up to 10 acres of land as a permanent site, Dix said, and they need city assurances the relocation will be allowed — guarantees the city says it can't make without a review.

Meanwhile, as winter rolls in, the prospect of moving hundreds of temperature-sensitive rattlesnakes, boa constrictors, iguanas, alligators, frogs and other reptiles becomes increasingly impossible.