Mike Noel’s dream of a destination golf course in Kanab hit a sand trap last week when state trust lands officials decided to explore other options for the 101 acres the retired Utah political leader needs for the project near Jackson Flat Reservoir.
The Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) has confirmed that the golf course, which would have been designed by the acclaimed architect David McLay Kidd, did not make the cut for further consideration. As the longtime general manager of the Kane County Water Conservancy District, Noel championed the luxury golf course as a way to further promote tourism in the southern Utah county that is home to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and a gateway to Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Zion National Park.
The water district planned to build it with a $10 million loan from the state Community Impact Board (CIB), paying off the debt with transient room tax revenue. About half the land needed for the course is administered by SITLA, which is obligated to seek competing offers from other interested parties before inking any deals.
It turned out residential development is a more attractive option at that location than golf, according to the agency.
“We recognize the immense amount of work that has been put into the proposed golf course and consequently sharing this news with you is difficult,” wrote SITLA real estate official Kyle Pasley to Noel in a Dec. 15 letter. “The Trust has enjoyed a long relationship with you and recognizes you as a true friend to the Trust.”
Noel said he has no plans to continue pursuing the project.
“I was sad to see that we couldn’t compete economically with the housing development proposals,” he wrote in an email. “The golf course used irrigation water from Kanab Creek. There was no impact to the city culinary water whatsoever. The same is not true of the housing development proposal. There will be an impact to the irrigation company water rights.”
Given Noel’s stature in Utah’s Republican Party circles, SITLA’s rejection of the proposed golf course carries some political weight. During his 16 years in the Legislature, Noel became one of rural Utah’s most influential lawmakers and led the campaigns to transfer public land to the state and shrink Utah’s national monument.
He also championed SITLA’s mission, which tends to favor extractive industry and development in rural parts of Utah.
At the end of the day, however, SITLA’s first duty is to manage the state’s 3.3 million acres of trust lands to maximize revenue, not to distribute political favors. The Legislature created the agency in 1994 specifically to insulate it from political interference, and the result has been a $2.5 billion bonanza to an endowment supporting Utah’s public schools.
This year, the trust distributed a record $93 million to schools and other beneficiaries of the trust.
The proposed golf course was to be run by a three-way partnership that included the water district, Kane County and the city of Kanab. But the city and the county balked at signing the partnership agreement drafted by the district’s lawyer, Rob Van Dyke, who also happens to be the elected Kane County attorney.
In his various public pitches seeking public funding and political support for the $10 million golf course, Noel often claimed broad community support for a world-class golf course. He even dropped SITLA Executive Director Dave Ure’s name as a potential supporter, even though SITLA’s last foray into the golf business, at Coral Canyon, was a bust.
In reality, many Kanab residents opposed the diversion of public money to a fancy golf course, according to an online petition.
SITLA, meanwhile, declined to describe the remaining proposals for the Jackson Flat land while they remain under review. The winning proposal is expected to be selected at the SITLA board’s Jan. 20 meeting.