WASHINGTON CITY – A project aimed at restoring and preserving the historic Warm Springs is once again up for a vote before the Washington City Council Wednesday.
The nonprofit Boiling Springs Ecoseum and Desert Preserve will once more be presenting a concept plan and development agreement to the City Council for consideration. The group proposes to build a large-scale public garden and botanical conservatory that would center around the Warm Springs, also known as “the Boilers.”
“What we’re trying to do is craft something that benefits the city for generations … and to look to the future and build something unique,” Nicole Warner, executive director for the nonprofit group, said.
The Warm Springs is fed by underground, geothermal springs from lava tubes that originate in Pine Valley, Warner said. The spring produces between 20,000 and 30,000 gallons an hour at a temperature of around 72-74 degrees, making it a perfect repository for unwanted pet fish in years past.
The Warm Springs is located on a parcel of undeveloped city-owned property on the west side of southbound Interstate 15 just south of the Main Street underpass. A fence surrounding the site was removed last year by the city which was originally erected in the late 1990s due to public safety concerns.
The spring was also a source of fresh water for Mormon settlers in the 1800s, as well as a popular swimming hole and gathering place. Today, it remains a source of irrigation water for downtown residents.
“This being an original water source has a great deal of history involved in it,” said Dick Kohler, president of the Washington County Historical Society.
“That was a reliable source of water that was clean and pure,” Kohler said, adding that the settlers didn’t use water out of the Virgin River below the Pah Tempe Hot Springs due to the minerals it poured into the river.
With the construction of Interstate 15 in the 1960s, residents didn’t want to be cut off from their spring, Kohler said, and so two tunnels allowing continued irrigation and access to the spring were built under the highway.
Concerning the nonprofit’s proposed project, Kohler said, “We have Nikki’s organization that wants to do something progressive with it and we’re totally in favor of that like kind of an effort. We’d like to see some good stewardship exercised.”
Some of the faculty of Dixie State University are also interested in the project.
“It’s a remarkable ecosystem which we’ve been able to use in a model; it’s so much different than the surrounding area,” said David Jones, the chair of DSU’s biology department. “We’re provided this nice little biological oasis that our faculty and our students have been able to come down and look at things that aren’t seen else where in the county.”
One of the proposed uses of the ecoseum project is the potential creation of an on-site research consortium set up between DSU and other institutions.
“The potential of this project is just incredible,” Jones said.
During a presentation of the nonprofit’s proposed plans to the City Council in February, presenters said the ecoseum could run around $50 million to develop, and could be an economic benefit to the community as it is estimated to generate over $91,000 in sales tax annually for the city.
“…We want to restore and preserve the site, but more importantly, we want to create a destination for our community and for eco-tourism we have coming to the area,” Warner said.
The project was originally proposed to the City Council in 2013 and was voted down, yet the door was left open for future work between the city and nonprofit, as well as a revised agreement plan.
The development agreement set before the council would create a public-private partnership between the city and the nonprofit group in which the ecoseum would be allowed to lease the property around the Warm Springs for 99 years for $1 a year.
Funding for the project would come through private donations, as well as possible federal grants. If certain funding benchmarks aren’t met by specific dates, the property reverts back to the city.
“I like the ecoseum, I think it would be a great asset,” Washington City Mayor Ken Neilson said, “but like anything else, it’s an unknown.”
Will the ecoseum project be able to draw people in like it’s supporters say it will? Will the city benefit from leasing the property to the ecoseum rather than selling it to a developer? Is it a good investment for the city moving forward? These are just some of the question the City Council will likely consider.
“I think that our City Councilmen are very intelligent men who think things out very thoroughly and come to the best conclusion that they feel would be best for Washington City,” Neilson said.
The Washington City Council will vote on “consideration to proceed with negotiations on the Boiling Springs Ecoseum and Desert Preserve concept plan and development agreement” during its Wednesday meeting, according to the posted agenda.
It should be noted by those planning to attend that the pending vote is not set for a public hearing.
The meeting will take place Wednesday, at 6 p.m., at the Washington City Offices located at 111 N. 100 East in Washington City.
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