Council votes down ‘Boilers’ project plan; STGnews Videocast

ST. GEORGE – Supporters of the Boiling Springs Ecoseum project left the Washington City offices disappointed Wednesday after the project’s proposed plan and development agreement was shot down by the City Council in a 3-2 vote. However, the door has been left open for the project to approach the council in the future.

Site of the Warm Springs, also known as “the Boilers,” Washington City, Utah, June 1, 2015 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News
Site of the Warm Springs, also known as “the Boilers,” Washington City, Utah, June 1, 2015 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

The nonprofit Boiling Springs Ecoseum and Desert Preserve has been seeking a partnership with the city focused around the conservation and restoration of the Warm Springs, also known as “the Boilers,” for a couple of years now.

This is the second attempt to bring a plan before the City Council; the first was in 2013. That plan also failed in a 3-2 vote.

Project supporters have said the Warm Springs has historical and ecological significance to the area and should be protected.

The spring itself is also a state-protected source of irrigation water for downtown Washington City residents.

The nonprofit proposes to build a $50 million facility around the Warm Springs that would include a public garden, botanical conservatory, outdoor class rooms and a trail system leading into nearby Millcreek Canyon. The group claims the project will be an economic benefit to the city once built.

The Warm Springs is located on a 16-acre 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 because of public safety concerns.

As a part of its agreement with the city, the nonprofit wants to lease the property for 99 years for $1 a year.

Some city residents who spoke at the council meeting didn’t like the idea of the city leasing the property to the nonprofit group and instead asked the City Council to require them to buy the property instead. Councilman Jeff Turek shared that opinion.

“One of the biggest responsibilities that I feel as a councilman is to be responsible for the assets of you, the citizenry and the community,” Turek said, adding that he didn’t feel leasing out the property would be fair to the city’s taxpayers. Also based on the sales tax revenue the Ecoseum projects it will generate, Turek said it would take 40 years to recoup the value of the property.

I just don’t see a return on investment to the taxpaying citizenry,” Turek said. “I’m certainly supportive of the concept if we want to come back together and look at purchasing the property outright and you developing it as an outright business; I’m certainly in favor of talking that way.”

Turek, along with Councilmen Thad Seegmiller and Garth Nisson, formed the majority vote that turned down the nonprofit’s proposed plan. Despite the vote, the door has been left open for the Ecoseum project to come back with a new plan in the future.

Prior to the vote, Seegmiller said, “Nothing about tonight, whether the vote’s yes or no, kills any opportunity on this piece. This piece is still publicly owned; still public maintained. Nothing about what happens stops anything … It remains publicly owned, and it remains in the state it has for decades.”

Following the vote, Nicole Warner, the executive director of the Ecoseum group, said the city didn’t appear opposed to the project itself, just the idea of entering into a private-public partnership.

Nicole Warner, executive director of the Boiling Springs Ecoseum and Desert Preserve nonprofit group, Washington City, Utah, June 1, 2015 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News
Nicole Warner, executive director of the Boiling Springs Ecoseum and Desert Preserve nonprofit group, Washington City, Utah, June 1, 2015 | Photo by Sheldon Demke, St. George News

“Does the city want to act in partnership with a nonprofit organization? Tonight. they voted no,” Warner said. “That doesn’t mean in the future we might not change their minds.”

The next time the Ecoseum takes its plans to the city, the make up of the City Council will likely have changed, as three seats are up for grabs this year. Turek has filed for reelection, while the other two, Councilmen Kress Staheli and Ron Truman, are stepping down once their terms are up.

Another factor that may change is that the nonprofit could offer to buy the property. Warner said campaigning for donations to go toward the purchase of the property would begin in earnest.

With the continuing growth of the city and the possibility of a highway interchange being built just north of the Warm Springs site, Warner said the spring needs to be protected.

We feel strongly enough and passionately enough that this is something that needs to be preserved from development,” Warner said.

Warner added that there’s a misconception about the irrigation shares attached to the Boilers and how the Ecoseum could impact those shares. Simply put, Warner said the Ecoseum wouldn’t affect the shares at all, as it has no state-authority to do so in the first place.

During the meeting, Elliot Hill, who lives across the road from the spring, said, “I want it to be preserved and done right. I believe these people are out to do it right. I would hate to see an exit put there or a strip mall.”

Sherri Reeder also approached the council and asked, “If not this, then what? What is your plan?”

Reeder said she believes the Ecoseum will be an economic draw for the city and that the Warm Springs also deserved to be more than just another city park.

Whatever you decide, consider making it something special,” Reeder said.

A park alone doesn’t do the Warm Springs justice, Staheli said during a speech in support of the project. He recounted how the idea of a park seemed to be the answer in response to renewed public interest in the Boilers thanks to the efforts of the Ecoseum group. In response, the city took down the fence around the spring and put sand on the banks of the pond.

(Left-right) Mayor Ken Neilson, Councilmen Thad Seegmiller, Kress Staheli, and Ron Truman, Washington City, Utah, June 10, 2015 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News
From left: Mayor Ken Neilson, Councilmen Thad Seegmiller, Kress Staheli and Ron Truman, Washington City, Utah, June 10, 2015 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Staheli said:

A park! A park is the answer. What did we learn? We learned we, as a city, don’t have a clue about protecting unique and delicate habitats. We also learned that if we keep pushing sand on the banks, there will be no more water to send downstream. So the way it could be, a park alone doesn’t do it justice. And we have seen the city does not have what it takes to care for it. Since when is the government the solution to local problems? Last time I checked, the majority of us agreed that private citizens do a much better job.

Part of the Ecoseum’s proposed agreement with the city would have allowed the city to pull out of the lease if certain fundraising benchmarks weren’t achieved by specific dates. Warner said the project wouldn’t be able to break ground until they had at least 80 percent of their funding goals achieved.

Also, the agreement gives the city an option to sell the property at fair-market value to the Ecoseum group or a third party if the nonprofit doesn’t take the offer.

Another matter attached to the Warm Springs is a delineation study on the spring currently being conducted by the Army Corp of Engineers to determine if the spring drains into the Virgin River. It if does, it will come under federal jurisdiction, and new regulations and procedures will apply to the spring. Any type of work done in relation to the spring will first be required go through federal permitting processes.

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