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Sanguine St. George: Huntsman shouldn't be too trusting of process

Published July 1, 2006 12:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2006, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Some Utahns may be comforted by the fact that Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. apparently has confidence in the process that seeks to determine the shape of the rapidly growing Washington County area for generations to come.

But the governor's optimism will understandably strike others as an unduly sanguine view of a process that could easily turn the doorstep of Zion National Park into an unholy sprawl of cul-de-sacs, sand traps and strip malls.

Until, that is, the water runs out, and St. George becomes the most highly leveraged ghost town in the history of the American West.

The proposed Washington County Growth and Conservation Act, supported by Republican Sen. Robert Bennett and Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, is a rare attempt to actually make some decisions about how to deal with the area's rapid population growth. The governor praises the public input that has been received and properly calls for more.

But his confidence that the process so far has not only been inclusive but also, perhaps, a model to be followed in other areas, seems far too credulous. He seems deaf to the fact that the process has been widely attacked by environmentalists who claim that their ideas have been deliberately excluded from the deliberations.

Even more disturbing was Huntsman's statement, made the other day at his monthly KUED press conference, that "the local officials have taken charge of what is going on, and they'll deal with whatever voices are out there." That seems a highly questionable view in light of the fact that local governments in rural Utah tend to be disproportionately sympathetic to the pro-development interests that are all too eager to pave here, dig there and bring millions of gallons of water from far away.

The proposal to sell up to 25,000 acres in federal land for development is troubling on its face. It becomes even more so when it is explained that the idea is to help fund a giant, $500 million, 120-mile pipeline to bring precious Colorado River water from fluctuating Lake Powell to insatiable St. George.

The future of Washington County matters, to all of Utah and the nation. The governor would be wrong to wash his hands of the issue, regardless of what officials on the federal and local levels may say.