ST. GEORGE — Both candidates for seat A on the Washington County Commission care a lot about water, even if they didn’t disagree too much about specific water issues in their debate Wednesday.
Republican Gil Almquist and Democrat Robert Ford faced off against each other in a debate hosted by the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce at Dixie State University. Paul Dail, editor in chief of St. George News, moderated the debate and asked the candidates specific questions about water, transportation, the county jail and growth.
One of the first questions in the debate was about how water can continue to provide for the rapid growth in Washington County. Ford said water conservancy is one of the biggest ways Washington County can prepare for the growth, and there are significant improvements the county can make in conserving water.
Almquist agreed that there are improvements that can be made in conservation, but he said more water sources will have to be added to provide a backup in case the current water sources are not enough someday.
“The only reason we’ve been labeled as using so much water in the county is because the ones before us were so good about getting it to us,” Almquist said. “Conservation alone is not going to get us through a thriving, growing community.”
When asked specifically about the Lake Powell Pipeline, Almquist didn’t explicitly say if he would support the plan to build a 140-mile pipeline to deliver water from Lake Powell to Washington County.
Instead, he said it would be a good idea for officials to continue working on the plans and studies until a final cost of the project is known, at which time a final decision on the pipeline could be made.
He also implored people to stop talking about the cost of the pipeline right now.
“Nobody knows how much it’s going to cost,” Almquist said. “When we get to the point of bidding on it, we’ll know what it costs. Then we can say, ‘Hey, that’s too expensive’ or ‘Wow, we need it – let’s go.'”
Ford agreed with Almquist’s comments about how the final studies on the pipeline need to be completed before he can commit to supporting it or not.
He said the county will need to work on getting better data on the project to find out what the actual cost and impacts will be.
“We’re going to run out of water with the projections we have now, so we’re going to have to find real solutions and work across many agencies, many bureaus and many states to come to a solution,” Ford said. “I don’t want to say no or yes on the pipeline. Let’s get more information and let’s get real about the costs and needs of this county.”
The plan to build a northern corridor to connect Washington City to the west side of St. George with a road through the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area was an issue that the candidates disagreed a little more on.
Almquist said he supports the construction of the northern corridor, but he hopes to work with developers to move the road more north to be farther away than some homes in the Green Spring area of Washington City.
After briefly explaining his position on the northern corridor at the debate, Almquist used the rest of his time in the segment to talk more about water from Lake Powell.
The northern corridor may reduce the travel time between Ivins and Washington City, but it’s not worth the cost to the environment to build it, Ford said.
His plan to fix the transportation issues will include expanding the Southern Parkway between Hurricane and the southern end of St. George so people can more easily travel around the city.
“The northern corridor, where it’s proposed right now, doesn’t really solve the transportation issue, but it cuts up a very beautiful natural resource area that we also need for people and for biological regions,” Ford said.
Ford shared his plan, if elected, to change the Washington County Commission from having three members to a five-person board to better represent smaller communities in the county like Rockville, where Ford lives. He also spoke about his goals to add affordable housing options in the county and entice technology companies to place their roots in southwestern Utah with incentives.
“I may be a Democrat, but I’m a conservative Democrat who believes in being frugal,” Ford said. “Unless we can pay for things, and we have economic growth that is balanced, we’re not going to solve the other issues that we have, whether it be water, homelessness or health care.”
Almquist disagreed with Ford’s plan to provide incentives for large companies to come to Washington County. He said he’s a strong believer in the free market that can grow and flourish without interference from the government.
“I would believe that the best thing we can do for growth in our area is with proper infrastructure and planning, which cities and counties can do, the rest of that free market system works just fine as it has in this country for almost 300 years,” Almquist said.
Voters in Washington County have the choice between Ford and Almquist to take over for commission chairman Zachary Renstrom.
Ballots in the county have already been mailed out and are due on election day Nov. 6.
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