Two counties, one valley

For many years, residents of northern San Juan County’s Spanish Valley have been able to live without much concern for what was going at the county level. The county seat, in Monticello, is a 45-minute drive away.

Residents are busy working one or more jobs and raising their families. They may not have the time to keep up with county issues or read the San Juan Record. If you live in Spanish Valley, but drive to work, shop and eat in Moab, you are more likely to pay attention to the papers that cover news and issues in Grand County. Residents have been able to watch the changes taking place in Grand County without being able to vote on issues or comfortably speak about them at public meetings since they are not residents.

At the same time, San Juan County government has not had much need to pay attention to its Spanish Valley residents. Decades-old political differences between Grand and San Juan counties play a part in how northern San Juan County residents and their concerns may be perceived by their own county due to its close proximity to Moab.

San Juan County representatives have been known to say they do not want to turn into another Moab. The combined complacency of residents and poor relations between counties has resulted in a kind of disenfranchisement of northern San Juan County with both local governments. Now, this is more glaring than ever for someone who lives in northern San Juan County because big things are happening here now and residents have been left out of the process.

Anyone traveling on Spanish Valley Drive to Ken’s Lake or the La Sals, can see that water and sewer lines are being put in. For better or for worse, that decision was made, funds were secured, and the project put in motion. Northern San Juan County is being planned for development.

The residents I talked to knew nothing about the plan for bringing in sewer and water, until it was too late. The meetings I attended about the pending water and sewer development were attended by a small fraction of the total residents, as were important meetings discussing the development plan for Spanish Valley conducted by the planning firm, Landmark Design.

It is my understanding that they were hired by San Juan County and SITLA (School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration). SITLA owns the majority of the land in northern San Juan County Spanish Valley. The combined efforts of San Juan County, SITLA, local residents and other developers are predicted to change the face of Spanish Valley in the next decades. Now, more residents are starting to pay attention.

The problem I see with this picture is the absence of our next-door neighbor, Grand County. Grand County residents may not be aware of what is going on here and how it might affect them in the future. Are we not essentially one valley, connected by our families, jobs and economy? The development of this part of Spanish Valley is likely to be affected by decisions made in Grand County and runs the risk of becoming a dumping ground for Grand County.

The proposed sale of land by SITLA to a Love’s truck stop is a perfect example. According to SITLA, they have been trying to “get something going” in northern San Juan County for a while and finally they have found someone to buy it. Great, but residents in northern San Juan County don’t necessarily need a gas station, with one five miles away, much less all of the other concerns a truck stop raises.

If we need anything, it would be a grocery store or home goods store, since we lost Shopko. If Grand County needs a truck stop, why does San Juan County have to jeopardize the development potential of its county to provide that relief? A truck stop would define this area and other developments that may be more beneficial to valley residents and the local economy may be excluded.

From my perspective as someone who works with young people, I think they need us to remember to think about their future here, as well as ours. Who is going to be the next generation of residents and what are their needs going to be? Think of all the children you know in our area. What can we plan for now that will provide a viable future for them here if they choose to stay?

If there really is no choice but to develop this last piece of the valley, then Grand and San Juan counties need to work together for smart, forward-thinking growth for residents. There is a lot at stake in the development of Spanish Valley for residents of both counties and we need to get involved and help guide our counties on planning our valley as a whole.

Austin is a resident of San Juan County’s portion of Spanish Valley.