ST. GEORGE – Three candidates for Washington County Commissioner debated a variety of topics including the contentious Lake Powell Pipeline and the proposed Northern Corridor at a luncheon hosted by the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce Wednesday.
Cox is running as the Republican nominee for County Commission; Warburton and Aldred are running as Independents.
County officials and local transportation planners have long planned on a northern route to ease traffic congestion from expected population growth in Southern Utah, but wildlife biologists and others believe building a road through the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve would harm the tortoise the reserve was created to protect.
Warburton said he is against the Northern Corridor and that he believes other solutions can be found for transportation in the county.
According to the Habitat Conservation Plan, Warburton said, which created the reserve, any alteration or any road needs to be an improvement to that very delicate wilderness area.
“So, it would be difficult for me to argue that putting a road through that desert conservation area would improve it,” he said.
Warburton said officials need to get creative to find solutions for transportation issues that don’t involve a Northern Corridor, which he said he believes is not needed at this time.
“If we were to not build it currently, and not put it in the budget, we would be under-budget for our current transportation needs,” Warburton said.
In contrast, Cox is in favor of the Northern Corridor.
“We have some really unique transportation corridor challenges,” Cox said. “If we want to preserve our air and cut our vehicle travel time, we need a northern corridor.”
“I feel that it can be done responsibly,” Cox added. “We can give up the Turkey Farm Road (now Cottonwood Road) in exchange for a corridor that’s permeable, and create a win-win.”
Aldred also supports the Northern Corridor, but said there needs to be a balance to make the project work.
“The turtle is the largest landowner in our county, so we’ve given the turtle a lot of things – I think we’ve built breeding tunnels for them,” Aldred said.
“I love animals, I feel that we are in dominion over them,” Aldred said. “We need to be responsible, but I think this road and this Northern Corridor is a good thing.”
“There needs to be a dialog, we need the corridor that works for everybody and we need to build it responsibly because we are responsible adults,” Aldred said.
Lake Powell Pipeline
The three candidates offer a range of positions on the advisability of the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline: for, against and undecided.
The pipeline, if built, would stretch nearly 140 miles and bring a portion of Utah’s share of the upper Colorado River Basin water to Washington and Kane counties. The proposal has been highly controversial, with disagreement about the need for the pipeline and uncertainty over the final cost and repayment schedule.
Warburton opposes the pipeline and said the water is not needed now.
“The need for water has been much overstated here,” Warburton said. There is enough water for 30-50 years, using current population projections.
“We do live in the desert, everybody knows that, but you probably also know that per capita we are one of the worst water users in the West.”
Much of Washington County’s water is wasted, Warburton said.
“We should be watering at night, we should be using gauges, rain automatic shut-off valves and so forth,” Warburton said. “None of this technology is widespread, being used here or dispersed by local government.”
“We don’t need the water right now,”Warburton added. “It’s a power grab and something that will cost us way, way too much in your tax dollars.”
Cox strongly favors the pipeline, as well as the conservation and reuse of water in Washington County.
In defense of the project, Cox said that Salt Lake County receives 90 percent of its water from other counties, primarily through the federally funded Central Utah Project. The federal government has stopped financing large water projects, leaving state and local officials to fend for themselves.
“So I do think the state of Utah does need to partner with Washington County on that resource. And I am not in favor of selling Utah’s already limited water to Nevada,” Cox said.
Conversion of agricultural water is a problem because Pah Tempe Hot Springs in LaVerkin put 80 tons of salt into the Virgin River every day.
“It increases the salinity … to where very few crops will actually grow in that water. It cannot be converted to culinary use without a desalinization plant to take the salt out,” Cox said, adding that it would cost almost as much money to run and operate as the pipeline.”
“I, 100 percent, support developing our water rights and leaving them here for Utah,” Cox said.
Aldred said he is undecided on the pipeline but does not favor selling water to Nevada. Instead, he suggests looking into alternatives such as selling water to Las Vegas and building a pipeline to the Snake Valley, which straddles the Utah-Nevada border near the Great Basin National Park .
If taking water out of the Colorado River is essential to retain Utah’s claim on it, Aldred suggested putting it into an aquifer until the pipeline question can be decided.
The candidates were asked about their plans for immediate and long-term economic development in Washington County.
Aldred said the Northern Corridor is economically important and might save money on road maintenance. He said he is also in favor of empowering and deregulating small businesses.
“We get a lot of fees that are disguised as non-taxes,” Aldred said, “but I’m going to be your watchdog for that.”
“What’s my economical plan? Well, to keep us within budget and not increase taxes,” Aldred said. “I honor and definitely respect each tax dollar that we receive from you.”
Cox, whose cousins founded SkyWest Airlines, said he is excited about the economic potential in the county, but believes that the future is in locally-grown businesses.
“My plan for economic development is to continue to do what we do well,” Cox said. “I want to work and create incubators where we bring people together where they can share ideas.”
Big companies will come in time, but for now, it will be local families and companies like Skywest and Cafe Rio that put St. George on the map, Cox said.
Warburton, on the other hand, said he believes that the role of government is to stay out of the way and keep taxes as low as possible to enable business to grow naturally.
“The government’s job is largely to provide the infrastructure, that basis for these businesses to do that,” Warburton said. “We can encourage some economic development, some partnerships with private business. We’ve been doing that for years – offering tax incentives – we can continue along that path.”
“And I think that is a good way of bringing in more clean industry and so forth to Southern Utah,” Warburton said, but overall, he said he believes in smaller, less intrusive government.
The general election is Nov. 8, with early voting beginning Oct. 25. Polling locations can be found on the state elections website.
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