Jenny Weidensee

Guest Columnist

The View

Lately I’ve been asked, “What’s all this noise coming from Spanish Valley?”

I have lived in the Moab valley for over 25 years. Fourteen years ago, my husband and I bought a small existing home on a couple acres in Spanish Valley where we hoped we could just, well, be. We both work a lot these days, but we try to keep a coat of stain on the porch, and not let the junk pile behind the garage get too big. We hope to retire someday and, maybe, get ahead of the weeds in the yard.

Here’s what I think I know.

Around 2017, San Juan County felt it was time to address pressure from the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) and developers toward development in Spanish Valley. So they set about talking to the residents of Spanish Valley and asked them why they live there and what they wanted for the future of their neighborhood.  

Some meetings were held and the residents voiced their concerns and desires. San Juan County put together a preliminary plan, followed by more discussion with the residents. The final Spanish Valley Area Plan was approved by the San Juan County Planning Commission and the San Juan County Commission in April 2018.

Throughout the entire process, among the many comments, there were consistent concerns raised by Spanish Valley residents. Four concerns are preservation of the rural character, preservation of the dark night skies, control of rampant commercial development and the unknown source of necessary water.

The Spanish Valley Area Plan specifically addressed three of those concerns and created guidelines for future development and ordinances. Of future water concerns, the plan only says, “Additional sources yet to be confirmed.”

Anyone familiar with the history of the arid western U.S. knows such a nebulous statement is cause for concern. Confirmed as what? Confirmed by whom? I, and many of my neighbors, hold private water rights. This is scary for us. One starts to wonder if their water rights will be “confirmed” away.

In March of 2019, the San Juan County Planning Commission amended the San Juan County Subdivision Ordinance and with this change a subdivision ordinance for Spanish Valley was created.

In the new ordinance the preservation of dark night skies has been left out completely. There is no mention of how, or when, the additional water sources will be found. There is no assurance that private water rights will remain, and no language that says what will happen to the plan if no water can be found. There is also no language that assures SITLA and its developers will follow the stipulations of the ordinance.

One starts to wonder if the public outreach was simply a placating exercise. Was this amended ordinance designed to help meet the desires of the existing residents, or was it to tie the hands of the residents while SITLA and developers go about doing whatever they want to do?

The planning commissioners feel they did all they reasonably could to contact and inform the Spanish Valley residents. They made an effort, and some people put a lot of work into creating these documents. The Spanish Valley Area Plan reflects much of that.

However, the amended ordinance ignores repeated concerns of the residents. And, for residents not able to attend the meetings, the final plan and amended ordinance are difficult to find and review.

The San Juan County commissioners were being asked to approve of the ordinance that many residents have not seen. Rumors abound.

Here’s the thing …  

Feelings about private property and home are very strong and deep, and any affecting issues are going to be hot. No matter how much effort is put into outreach, if the people whose homes are involved do not feel they have all the information, or that their concerns have not been heard or addressed, they will be frightened, they will be angry and they will make noise.  

When it comes to home, there is no 11th hour. These feelings, no matter how they are founded, will not simply go away. Fear becomes anger and mistrust. Anger and mistrust become dysfunction in the community. That’s no way to start out. We have to deal with it.

I applaud San Juan County commissioners Kenneth Maryboy and Willie Grayeyes for supporting the residents of Spanish Valley by allowing us a voice in amending the ordinance.

Jenny Weidensee is a field biologist who lives in Spanish Valley and loves her home community of Moab.

“Feelings about private property and home are very strong and deep, and any affecting issues are going to be hot.”