ST. GEORGE — Having chosen not to seek re-election to the St. George City Council last year, former Councilman Gil Almquist has since set his eyes on the Washington County Commission.
Almquist has served the City of St. George as a member and chairman of the Planning Commission for more than 16 years and as a member of the City Council for eight years, for more than 24 years overall in municipal service.
“Gil has been such a fantastic council member (and) planning commission member,” St. George Mayor Jon Pike said last month during the last City Council meeting of 2015. Pike figured that Almquist had walked into the city office more than 900 times during his years with the Planning Commission and the council.
Now eyeing the County Commission seat that will be vacated by longtime Commissioner Alan Gardner at the end of the year, Almquist said he feels his experience will benefit the county moving forward. While wrangling with the issues common to the county, such as land use and water, he said there are other items he’d like to see touched upon as well.
“Any time you run for a commission race or any political office, you’d better have some pretty good reasons and be in touch with what the citizens want,” Almquist said.
Animal shelter at Purgatory
One of the items Almquist wishes to pursue is the possibility of an animal shelter and rehabilitation program at the Washington County Purgatory Correctional Facility that would be staffed by the inmates, where “inmates can learn from and care for the animals that have been displaced and need some rehabilitation or training, and then put them back into society where they can be good pets,” Almquist said.
“This has been done in many places around the country, and I feel there’s no exception to the ability to do that here in Purgatory,” he said. “When inmates care about something else that has a heartbeat, that makes them better, that’s been proven.”
Another issue Almquist wants to address is water rights in the county.
“There are a few small areas around the county (where) we need to pin down who owns the water and how we’re going to negotiate together and work cooperatively to use it,” he said.
Water conversation and the Lake Powell Pipeline
On the topic of water, Almquist advocates for both conservation and the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline.
“I know we can conserve,” he said. “I’ve been a landscaper for over 30 years. I know how to save a drop of water. I’ve been putting that in practice within the landscapes I’ve done.”
Much of the county’s water use — around 70 percent, he said — goes to outdoor landscaping.
In addition to conservation, the county must also look to the future as far as new sources of water are concerned, which is why Almquist supports the Lake Powell Pipeline.
“I believe all of Utah is going to benefit from … the Lake Powell Pipeline,” he said.
Without the pipeline, Almquist said he worries other states may try to take some of Utah’s currently unused water allocation from the Colorado River in the future. While it may be legally done, he said, he would still see it as stealing water set aside for Utah under the Colorado River Compact.
He would like to see the pipeline begin construction by 2020, as the sooner it is built, the sooner the area can have it as an additional later source while also continuing to practice conversation measures.
Experience over new blood and the proposed BLM plan
Will Almquist’s longtime service in the municipal government have a negative impact with party delegates? During the last commission race in 2014, newcomers Victor Iverson and Zachary Renstrom beat out incumbent James Eardley and former St. George Mayor Daniel McArthur among others for the party nomination.
Will “new blood” again be favored by the delegates, or will they choose someone who has years of experience behind him?
“The issue of new blood is good to a certain extent,” Almquist said, “but the issue of experience and knowledge will trump that any day because there are big issues facing us from the federal side.”
Those big issues include the Bureau of Land Management’s proposed draft resource management plan. Local, municipal and county officials argue elements of the plan will negatively impact the future growth and economy of the county.
On the subject of the proposed BLM plan, Almquist said the end goals of the federal agencies involved — from the BLM to U.S. Fish and Wildlife — need to be adequately spelled out so county officials and others involved can have a better idea where they can all potentially come together, negotiate and compromise.
So far, that hasn’t exactly happened, he said.
Part of Almquist’s time with the city has allowed him to form relationships with various officials on the county, state and federal level, such as the state’s congressional delegation, that will work to the county’s benefit in this and other areas, he said.
Almquist moved to St. George in 1982 and started a landscaping company in 1984 with his wife, Jill. They also own and run a back-flow testing company. He has also worked as a securities broker for the last decade. He attended Dixie College and graduated from Brigham Young University where he studied business, geography and international relations. He currently serves as the president of the Bloomington Hills Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Almquist said he is looking forward to meeting and speaking with county delegates, as he has chosen to pursue the Republican nomination for Washington County Commission via the state’s caucus-convention system.
In addition to Almquist, others seeking to fill the commission seat include Rev. Jimi Kestin, Washington County Administrator Dean Cox and businessman Greg Aldred, son of former County Commissioner Gayle Aldred.
Candidates will be able to officially file for candidacy in March. The Washington County Republican nominating convention will be held in April.
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