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Erda, a rural holdout of about 3,000 residents in Tooele County, officially received its incorporation certificate Monday, making it Utah’s newest city.
The lieutenant governor’s office signed off on creation of the city, the final step needed after voters approved Erda’s boundaries in November 2020 and elected their first City Council in 2021.
“Another milestone’s been reached,” Erda City Council member Joshua Kael Martin said Tuesday. “[But] we still have a lot of work ahead of us.”
The incorporation process has been full of skirmishes, including lawsuits, delays, annexation attempts and alleged actions from Tooele County officials to “intentionally harm Erda citizens” at the benefit of land developers, according to a 3rd District judge.
“What’s next?” said City Council chair Jess Bird. “Hopefully bringing people together.”
The new City Council members submitted a final plat map to County Recorder-Surveyor Jerry Houghton for approval Dec. 10. But by the time of the lieutenant governor’s Dec. 16 deadline to receive the approved map, Houghton had not yet signed off. The surveyor did not submit a decision until Christmas Eve, when he issued a letter rejecting the map based on a 2021 statute about split parcels, even though Erda’s sponsors began the incorporation process under a different 2018 law.
Houghton also billed the City Council $116,250 to review the map, which some Erda residents called unreasonable, given other recently incorporated cities were not charged for their plat reviews.
The Erda sponsors’ attorney, Janet Conway, issued a letter to the Tooele County Council explaining the situation and also sent a letter to Houghton in mid-December. Shortly after, a county attorney apparently threatened to file a bar complaint against Conway, according to a legal filing.
In an interview, Conway said the threat was due to the fact she was representing different clients in separate cases against the county. And in this case, she said, a council member and Houghton had requested the information shared.
“It was a completely baseless [threat] to try and be a bully,” Conway said.
In court late last month, attorneys for Tooele County claimed to support Erda’s incorporation. Judge Dianna M. Gibson wrote in her Dec. 30 order that the county was, however, actively arguing and working against the approvals needed to make Erda a city.
“Tooele County says it supports the incorporation, but then appears to support every effort to undermine it,” Gibson wrote. “It — through its Surveyor — facilitated the delay in approving the final plat, which is a purely administrative task at this point.”
The judge further noted that the evidence presented in the case was “appalling.” She found Houghton’s failure to review the map helped facilitate a lawsuit filed by owners of the Skywalk business park development, who oppose their property’s inclusion into Erda. Because the plat map could not be included in the Dec. 16 submission to the lieutenant governor, both the developers and Tooele County’s attorneys argued the entire incorporation was moot.
(Houghton and the Tooele County attorney’s office previously declined to comment on the case.)
“It appears to this Court that the office of the Surveyor intentionally delayed communicating with [Erda officials] and dragged the process on beyond the deadlines,” Gibson wrote, “which coincidentally resulted in Skywalk filing a lawsuit asserting that because the deadlines were missed, there can be no incorporation.”
Gibson also called Houghton’s fee “unreasonable” by $114,000 and called the county attorney’s threatened bar complaint “shocking.”
“From the Court’s point of view, and for whatever reason,” the judge wrote, “it appears that Tooele County is taking acting intentionally to harm its Erda citizens in order to benefit two individual land developers.”
The judge gave Houghton fewer than 24 hours to review Erda’s map and resolve any issues, allowing the city’s sponsors to meet their Jan. 3 deadline with the lieutenant governor.
“This has been an incredible battle over three years to get to this point,” Conway said. “It’s almost too hard to believe that we finally reached the finish line.”
Tooele County Attorney Scott Broadhead said Tuesday the county is “ready to move on.”
“I do not disagree with Erda City being able to become a city,” Broadhead said. “That’s been resolved.”
Conway and Martin, the City Council member, acknowledged plenty of other hurdles lie ahead. The Skywalk developers are still pursuing annexation into neighboring Grantsville, as is Six Mile Ranch, a large portion of land that was previously identified within the boundaries of a proposed Tooele County Inland Port.
“The attack on our incorporation will continue for a while,” Martin said. “I see future litigation coming.”