More Dogs on Main: A couple of successes
The reality of agriculture is that the ranch can no longer support multiple generations of an extended family
The Summit County Council took a couple of actions recently that will have an impact for generations to come. The first was the option agreement to purchase the Ure Ranch in Kamas. The second was deciding to quit wasting time negotiating with Dakota Pacific and pack the whole rotten mess off to court. There’s never a sure outcome in a court case but after a couple of years of legislative shenanigans, that’s the best option. Even local GOP leaders were disgusted by the actions of the Legislature in trying to force this deal and end local control.
Something, someday, will get built on the Dakota Pacific land. It’s not conservation land given what’s already happened around it. The county and Park City already spent $16 million years ago buying the portions of it that seemed to have preservation values. The rest of it won’t remain Potgut squirrel habitat no matter how nice that would be for traffic management. What gets built there is the question. Dakota Pacific bought it zoned and approved for an office park. After the plague hit, nobody is going back to the office anywhere. With local housing prices where they are, almost all the workers would have to commute from Salt Lake. That’s not a great recruitment point when hiring, and the tech industry action is all in Draper and Lehi. The office park concept seemed dubious when Dakota Pacific bought it, and like a bushel of last year’s peaches, it isn’t aging well.
Dakota Pacific asked to rezone it and put forth a couple of proposals for different uses. The public hated both. The county made a good-faith effort to see if it could make something work; dangling affordable housing sugarplums in front of local governments usually gets stuff approved. But it didn’t get approved. It has been mired in planning purgatory for years. The county’s position finally seemed to boil down to this: It’s not Summit County’s obligation to fix a business deal that didn’t work out as planned.
Dakota Pacific could have sued the county, and chose not to. That’s an indication that their counsel seemed to think they didn’t have a case. Instead, they pulled off another legislative trick. In the final minutes of voting on a larger land use package, a new bill was substituted in. That was pushed by a representative from Cache Valley named Casey Snider. Snider may never have been to Kimball Junction, but was willing to use the power of the Legislature to push through a law that applies to only that patch of dirt, and nowhere else in the state. It feels like a denial of equal application of laws because it is.
That kind of corrupt cronyism has come to define the Republican dominated Utah Legislature. Legislation is often compared to sausage-making, and the line is that you don’t want to see the sausage being made. But even sausage-makers have a limit on the amount of b.s. they put into the mix. The Utah Legislature? Not so much. Not for special friends.
So the County sued, claiming the whole “fix” was unconstitutional. It’s about damn time. One thing we might want to consider is that next year, Rep. Snider is up for reelection. There’s an opportunity there for Summit County residents, who have no more connection to Cache County than Snider has to Kimball Junction, to return his favor and generously fund the campaign of anybody running against him.
The Ure Ranch purchase, however, is a great thing on many levels. The Ure family has owned that ranch for generations, and like anybody who has worked a piece of land for that long, they have the deep connection to it that only a farm family can fully understand. The reality of agriculture is that the ranch can no longer support multiple generations of an extended family. Many wanted nothing to do with the operation of the ranch — it’s hard, dirty work with little economic return. The value of the land far exceeds anything that an agricultural operation can support. For a long time, Ures have been looking for a solution that allowed an exit for those family members not active in the ranching operation, but at the same time preserved the land.
So from the family perspective, this is a win, though the ranching operation likely ends up moving anyway. To make an economically viable operation, they had operated on adjoining leased land that has since become a bunch of trophy homes. The cattle will move on, but the county, with Ures’ help, have taken a huge step to preserve the Kamas Meadow and Weber River watershed. The County previously bought an easement over 99 acres of the meadow in Marion. Additional pieces will follow. Maybe the South Summit School District will trade its wetland school site for some of the non-conservation land in the Ure purchase. They could preserve more of the meadow and build a new high school in the process.
The stretch of open land from 248 north to Rockport is the heart of the Weber River watershed. A million or so people rely on it for drinking water, including you, most likely. Visually, it defines the Kamas Valley. Hydrologically, it is a great big aquifer that can’t be replaced. It shouldn’t be covered by trophy homes.
Good things are happening. Congratulations and thanks to all involved.
Guest editorial: Utahns pressing for climate action
Utahns have already felt the impacts of a warming climate with a mega-drought, air pollution, an increase in wildfires and threatened fisheries.
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