Joint meeting: Two counties visit about shared geography

The San Juan County Commission and Grand County Council held a rare joint meeting to discuss mutual concerns, particularly in Spanish Valley, a growing area that straddles the boundary separating the two counties. From the left are Chair Kenneth Maryboy and Commissioners Willie Grayeyes and Bruce Adams from San Juan. Photo by Doug McMurdo

Growth in Spanish Valley has created a number of concerns for officials, ranging from water and sewer issues, the large amount of state lands in the area, and the cost of providing services to San Juan County when tourists staying in Moab venture south.

A joint meeting between the Grand County Council and the San Juan County Commission held Monday opened the door to finding solutions.

For those in attendance, plans to build a Love’s Travel Stop in Spanish Valley in the area of Highway 191 and Sunny Acres Lane, just across the county boundary, were a significant concern, but hardly the only one.

In a related matter, the Grand County Council in a special meeting held Tuesday voted 4-0 to send a letter to Brian Torgerson of the Utah Schools and Industrial Land Administration, SITLA, advising him of plans for a bypass that could move truck traffic away from the highway and Sunny Acres Lane.

Council Vice Chair Terry Morse and members Jaylyn Hawks, Mary McGann and Greg Halliday agreed to send a letter.

The letter specifically advised Torgerson that the Utah Department of Transportation hired a consulting firm, Fehr &Peers, to develop a conceptual bypass study two years ago. The Moab City Council a year ago this month was presented with a plan for the bypass.

“We simply want to make sure that you and Love’s are aware of the bypass study options, one of which contemplated reconnecting through Kane Springs to Hole in the Rock,” reads the letter. “That is to say, truck traffic could eventually be moved elsewhere … Thus, we want you and Love’s to be aware in the event this idea ever comes to fruition.”

Resident Marlene Huckabay at Monday’s joint meeting said the sound of trucks idling all night would create a nuisance, but SITLA Director Dave Ure was blunt with local officials and residents alike: “Love’s isn’t encroaching on residential,” he said. “It’s the other way around.”

The area is zoned commercial, but homes were allowed to be built. Ure offered an olive branch, saying SITLA wants to be a good neighbor. He said SITLA has invested significant resources into southeastern Utah in terms of infrastructure and long-term planning 20 to 25 years into the future.

San Juan Commissioner Willie Grayeyes said the Love’s deal “seems like it was done from the top down,” meaning local residents were not included in preliminary discussions. He and San Juan County Commission Chair Kenneth Maryboy defended a commercial development moratorium in place, saying they wanted to ensure local residents are heard before decisions are made. It remains unclear if the Love’s development would be impacted, according to interim San Juan County Administrator David Everitt.

“I’m an economic development kind of guy,” said Maryboy, but he said he also wants to involve the people of San Juan County in shaping growth.

San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams defended SITLA, which has come under attack over the truck stop plans.

Adams also said another of his concerns regards the number of water wells and septic tanks, which have increased significantly in Spanish Valley. San Juan County requires the minimum lot size for a single-family home in Spanish Valley to be an acre, which is the size required to accommodate a well and septic tank.

Adams said San Juan invested roughly $13 million to put in the infrastructure for water and sewer and transferred water rights from the San Juan River to Spanish Valley, which he referred to as “Moab South.”

A proposed bypass also was discussed, as were concerns over emergency response resources, particularly when tourists spend money in Moab and then venture into San Juan County, where they sometimes require the assistance of emergency medical help, search and rescue or law enforcement.

Morse summed up the dynamic succinctly when he concluded the discussion by noting, “We’re two counties sharing the same geographic area.”