Floyd Dean and Saxon Sharpe cannot be accused of NIMBYism.
The Spanish Valley residents are urging the City of Moab to reconsider its plans for a new 2.5-million-gallon water storage tank near the intersection of Spanish Trail Road and Spanish Valley Drive.
But the couple are not asking city officials to abandon the project – or build it somewhere beyond eyeshot of their Calle Puentes home. Instead, they think that city officials should turn their gaze across the street, to vacant, city-owned land on the northeastern corner of the same intersection, where they believe the risk to surrounding homes would be reduced in the event of a catastrophic tank failure or underground seepage.
“We’re not trying to move it out of our neighborhood and say, ‘Not in our backyard,’” Dean said. “… It (would not be) out of the view of our house.”
The previous Moab City Council voted unanimously in July 2015 to approve the current site location on a 3.2-acre city-owned parcel immediately adjacent to the couple’s home.
In the months leading up to that vote, city officials and their contracted engineering firm looked at two other sites near existing water tanks within the city limits. However, they ultimately said they preferred the current site because the city already owns the property, and because it’s closest to the water source and the main water line.
“What we are trying to accomplish with this site is to achieve everything we can to the best of our abilities,” former Moab City Manager Rebecca Davidson said at the time.
Almost two years have gone by since Dean and Sharpe last spoke with city officials about the project, and in that time, a new council was sworn in, Davidson’s contract was terminated and the city’s engineer came and went.
After that shake-up, Sharpe said she’d like to open a dialogue with current council members and city officials with the hope that they will take another look at the placement of the tank.
“The previous decision was made (under) a prior city council, prior city manager and without an engineer,” she said. “Given that, I believe that each current city council member has a fiduciary responsibility to review a thorough analysis … for a project of this cost and impact.”
Moab City Council members Rani Derasary, Kalen Jones and Tawny Knuteson-Boyd – all of whom took office after the previous council approved the project site – told the Moab Sun News that they’re receptive to hearing what the couple have to say.
Derasary said that while she was campaigning for office in 2015, she attended several meetings where the subject came up. But given the amount of time that’s elapsed since then, she said she would like to hear what an engineer has to say in order to better understand the proposal.
“It seems like it’s been a long time between when the water tanks were first discussed … and now, so I do feel like it’s timely to come back and discuss all that stuff,” Derasary said.
Jones said he’d also appreciate an engineer’s take on the issues that Sharpe and Dean have raised, and what could be done to mitigate any of their concerns.
“At this point, I want the input of experts, because that’s not a call that I’m qualified to make,” he said.
Knuteson-Boyd said that Interim Moab City Manager David Everitt has assured council members that he’s looking into the tank location issue. Generally speaking, Knuteson-Boyd said that she typically likes to see if she can work things out with citizens who bring concerns to her attention.
“I’m completely open to dialogue and some further understanding about what their concerns are,” she said. “Hopefully, that will help people who are most impacted by our decisions feel better about what we do.”
Council hires firm for planning work, seeks CIB funds
As far as Jones can recall, the council hasn’t discussed the storage tank in recent months.
However, two items on the council’s Feb. 28 consent agenda could lead to further reviews of the issue in the months to come.
To begin with, council members approved a task order with the Midvale engineering firm of Hansen, Allen and Luce, Inc., to accept the scope of work on a water storage and distribution master plan.
Overall, the plan will assess the city’s existing culinary water system, while offering guidance for future growth. It will also offer a technical design rationale to build the proposed tank, with the hope that the city can secure funding for the project.
A separate resolution approved the projects list that the city plans to submit to Utah’s Permanent Community Impact Fund Board (CIB). The list includes a $2 million request in CIB funding for the tank project – or half of the current estimated costs for the tank and improvements to water transmission lines.
Jones said he suspects that the tank could be relocated without changes to the council’s CIB funding request.
“At the level of detail we’re identifying, if the tank moves, it’s outside the level of specificity for that priority list,” he said.
Ultimate approval of the current proposal rests with the Grand County Council: Although the city owns the parcel, it sits in a Rural-Residential zone in unincorporated Grand County, so the city would have to submit a request for a conditional use permit. The county’s planning commission and council would then review that request before the county council voted one way or the other.
Grand County Community Development Director Zacharia Levine said that his office was approached about the permitting issue during Davidson’s time as city manager. However, it never received a formal submission from the city, he said.
Since the proposal hasn’t moved on to the county yet, both Sharpe and Dean said they’d like to hear the city council revisit their concerns in a public meeting, and listen to what they have to say.
“This is an opportunity for the city to show the community transparency and convince residents that the tank is really needed and that it has chosen the best location for its placement,” Sharpe said.
“We’re not here to do other people’s jobs for them,” Dean said. “We’re here to, from time to time, make what we think are beneficial suggestions.”
One potential obstacle to the couple’s favored move has come to light: There are reportedly an unknown number of indigent graves on a portion of the property they favor.
But Dean said it’s his understanding that the graves are located on the other side of the ditch that cuts through the property, and would not be affected if the city built the tank on the opposite end of the ditch.
From his perspective, the alternative is potentially much worse: Large-scale infrastructure projects have been known to fail, and if the proposed 20-foot-tall tank is built largely underground, Dean is concerned that it will be difficult to monitor for leaks.
After a sinkhole formed under the house of Moab Valley Fire Department Chief Phillip Mosher in 2015, Dean said he’s concerned that something similar could happen at the tank site.
“There is no remediation of subsidence,” he said. “You just abandon property.”