ST. GEORGE — From transportation infrastructure and new buildings to the reconstruction of the shooting sports park and securing the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, Washington County officials move into 2020 with a number of projects on their plate.
“There’s going to be quite a few exciting things happening in Washington County over the next year,” Washington County Commissioner Victor Iverson said when he sat down with St. George News last week.
The county doesn’t work in a vacuum, Iverson said, noting it works with various local, state and federal partners to achieve particular infrastructure needs like transportation and water.
“One (project) that we’ll be leading out on this year as far as transportation goes is a look at the bus system we are thinking about putting in from St. George to Springdale,” he said.
The county has hired a private consulting company to produce a study on the feasibility of such a route in relation to cost and how to fund it.
While the idea of a St. George-to-Springdale transit route has been around for years, it didn’t gain major traction until the Utah Department of Transportation put $15 million toward the exploration and possible implementation of route in 2018.
UDOT’s contribution is anticipated to fund the bus route for the first few years of operation, with the county taking over after that. One of the sources of projected funding for the route is money generated from the 0.25% sales tax for transportation infrastructure and public transit adopted by the County Commission last summer.
The study is anticipated to be done within 30-60 days, Iverson said.
Another project that Iverson called critical for transportation in the county is the proposed northern corridor, also called the Washington Parkway by some due to it possibly connecting to an extension of that roadway.
“We’re looking to secure a right-of-way to put this road in – it won’t be built immediately – because it’s so critical,” Iverson said.
The Northern Corridor is a longstanding subject of controversy for the county as it will cut through parts of the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve and overlapping Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. As the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve was originally set aside for the protection of the threatened Mojave desert tortoise, federal wildlife and public lands agencies have been hesitant to approve such a project in the past.
Presently, UDOT and Washington County have petitioned the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct a study into the creation of a right-of-way for the Northern Corridor that could connect a part of Red Hills Parkway to Interstate 15 at Exit 13 via Washington Parkway.
County and state officials and road planners say the roadway is needed to help combat current and future traffic congestion brought on by the county’s continuing growth.
A part of the study was a scoping period asking the public to comment about the project and factors related to it. At the end of the period earlier this month, it was estimated by BLM officials that up to 16,000 comments had been submitted.
A final record-of-decision on whether Washington County gets the right-of-way is expected sometime during the winter of 2020-21.
The Washington County Habitat Conservation Plan
Related to the Northern Corridor is the Washington County Habitat Conservation Plan, the plan that governs the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve.
The HCP, as it is commonly known, expired in 2016 and has been extended since by the Fish and Wildlife Service while county, state and federal agencies work together to renew it. Several factors, including the Northern Corridor and developers with private land locked within the reserve at the time of its creation, have impeded that process.
The HCP was created as a place the desert tortoise could be taken and safeguarded so development could continue unhindered by their presence in various parts of the county.
Last month, the HCP Advisory Committee was told that a draft of the HCP’s renewed plan may be available to preview during a presentation at a forthcoming meeting.
“We’re looking in the near-future…at having a new county administration building,” Iverson said. We’re getting really serious about it this year. We’re in the middle of securing our architect and our construction team to start that process.”
The new administration building will be located on the corner of 100 East and Tabernacle Street in St. George.
“We’re outgrown the space we were in,” Iverson said.
The county plan is to bring multiple county departments, with the exception of the justice court, under a single roof. Currently, the justice court and the county assessor’s and treasurer’s offices are located in the Washington County Boulevard Office Building.
The exterior of the Boulevard Office Building was renovated last year. Once the new administration building is built, the office building will become dedicated to the justice court and court-related services.
The old administration building will likely be torn down, Iverson said. As to what may replace it, the commissioner said one of the possibilities is a multi-story parking structure.
A plan to build a new building at the Washington County Sheriff’s Office to house the county’s search and rescue equipment is also in the planning stages.
Shooting sports park and trails
“For the people that use the county shooting sports park, we’re going to be doing a major rebuild there,” Iverson said.
Part of the work involves rebuilding the berms used in a portion of the park and moving them away from a nearby ridge where a development exists on the other side. Despite having a literal wall of rock between the homes on the ridge top and the shooting range below, ricocheting bullets hitting homes in the development concerned residents who wanted the problem fixed.
The county will also be working on improving trails and trailheads in the LaVerkin-Hurricane area at the Confluence Park. This is part of an overall plan between the county and the municipalities to create a connected trail system throughout the county.
“We want people in this county to be able to access public lands through parks and trails,” Iverson said. “Confluence Park is just one part of that.”
During it’s last meeting of 2019, the County Commission adopted an attainable housing plan as per state mandate for each county and their municipalities. Similar plans have been adopted in Washington City and St. George.
As there is limited infrastructure to adequately support major projects in the unincorporated parts of the county, the County Commission had opted to work with the towns and cities with the needed infrastructure concerning the matter.
This has resulted in the creation of the county’s Housing Action Coalition, which works with county and city planners, home builders, title and mortgage companies and other invested parties to find ways to help create more attainable housing across the county.
“They come and share ideas and work on ways to find more attainable housing in the county,” Iverson said. “It’s something we’re really concern about.”
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