Newly elected county officials were sworn in Jan. 3, at the Sanpete County Commissioners meeting. Sandy Neill, County Recorder, is shown here, facing away from the camera, swearing in, from left to right, County Auditor Stacey Lyon, County Attorney Kevin Daniels, County Sheriff Brian Neilson, County Commissioner Edwin Sunderland and County Commissioner Scott Bartholomew.

Sanpete County officials sworn in


By James Tilson




MANTI—The Sanpete County Commission greeted a new member, and handed out committee assignments from a retiring member at its first meeting of the new year.

Newly elected commissioner Edwin Sunderland was sworn in to his seat, replacing retiring commissioner Claudia Jarrett.

During the meeting on Tuesday, commission chair Scott Bartholomew handed out committee assignments to all three commissioners to reflect its new membership.

Bartholomew, the returning chair, retained his chairmanship, and Steve Lund took over as the pro-tem chair.

Bartholomew also took over the Six County Area Operating Group representation and the mental health board from Jarrett’s assignments. To make room for these new assignments, Bartholomew assigned his former economic development board to Lund, and the Children’s Justice Center to Sunderland. Lund’s former boards of 4H, USU Extension and Manti/Ephraim Airport liaison were also assigned to Sunderland.

The remaining boards from Jarrett; Intergenerational Poverty, Special Service District No. 1, county roads – north, weed board, forest service/BLM liaison and mosquito/grasshopper abatement were assigned to Sunderland.

Two new boards were also assigned, with public lands being assigned to Sunderland, and Utah Association of Counties assigned to Lund.

Manti looking for solutions to deer that are causing some residents to ‘give up on gardens’


By James Tilson




MANTI—The Manti City Council set a deadline to have a plan in place to deal with deer populations within city limits.

While discussing continuing business, the council brought up the deer population problems. The council had considered the issue earlier last fall, but had not taken any action on it yet.

Councilwoman Mary Wintch exclaimed, “They’re everywhere this year!” And Councilman Gary Chidester agreed, saying, “A lot of people in town have given up on gardens.”

City Administrator Kent Barton said a presentation on the issue was already scheduled for the next council meeting on the 16th. At that meeting, an anti-feeding ordinance can be discussed, a public hearing scheduled and public comment can be solicited.

Councilman Darren Dyreng said he wanted a deer control program approved and in place by the end of March, so that residents would have time to prepare. Barton agreed the council should move on the issue, but with attention it should be ready by then.

Dyreng said the council will have a number of options on how to deal with the deer population, from allowing private citizens to hunt deer within city limits, to contracting with and only allowing a professional hunter to utilize the program. Chidester indicating he was in favor of making the meat available to families in need. Dyreng agreed that was one of the options available to the council.

The council also heard from Sports and Recreation Director Vern Jensen, with a report on last year’s activities and a look ahead to next year.

“Lots of kids are coming out, our numbers are up,” Jensen told the council. Jensen pointed to expansion of youth basketball programs, fall and spring soccer and changing flag-football to NFL rules as factors for improved participation numbers.

Manti’s new baseball/softball venue caused Jensen, and the council, to be very excited for the coming year. “We will be ready to start this spring, and we’ll have new events,” said Jensen.

Jensen pointed to a change in the recreation department’s youth baseball program from the Babe Ruth league to the Utah Boys Baseball Association (UBBA) as one new event. With teams from Gunnison, Salina, Manti and Ephraim in their region, the playoff between all those teams would be held at Manti’s new facility.

Jensen also said the Ephraim’s Lions Club was considering holding their annual youth baseball/softball tournament at the facility as well.

Wintch noted that with new people coming to Manti, local businesses would benefit from the overflow traffic, as would the city pool.  The council expressed hope that the new traffic would help offset the expected loss in revenue from the ending of the Mormon Miracle Pageant.

Gunnison Valley Bank seeks merger with State Bank of Southern Utah


By Suzanne Dean





GUNNISON—Gunnison Valley Bank, a fixture on Gunnison’s Main Street for more than 100 years, plans to merge with State Bank of Southern Utah, headquartered in Cedar City, during the first quarter of the year.

State Bank of Southern Utah announced the change in a press release on Dec. 31. The release said the merger had been approved by the board of directors of both banks, but still must be approved by federal and state regulators, and Gunnison Valley Bank shareholders.

State Bank of Southern Utah has $1.1 billion in assets and has 13 branches, located in Fillmore, Richfield, Circleville, Tropic, Orderville, Kanab, Santa Clara, Hurricane, Parowan and Cedar City.

A 2018 financial report lists Gunnison Valley Bank’s total assets at approximately $70.6 million.

Paul Anderson, president and CEO of Gunnison Valley Bank, said the merger would be a benefit to the bank’s loyal customers. “I am pleased to know that community banking will continue for many years to come in the Gunnison Valley,” he said.

Eric J. Schmutz, president and CEO of State Bank of Southern Utah said, “State Bank will bring more technology and banking products to customers in the area, such as online and mobile banking deposits, remote deposit capability, debit and credit card services, and greater ATM access to name a few benefits.”

Gunnison Valley Bank opened its doors in a white stone and brick building on Oct. 23, 1909. In 1955, a new main building was constructed to the south of the first structure. Then the two buildings were combined into one. The woodwork in the original building was preserved and the facade of the new building was designed to duplicate the original facade. In 1979, the Utah Heritage Foundation gave the bank an award for historic preservation.

One of the early cashiers was C.E. “Cy” Anderson, who joined the staff in 1923, and moved into management. His sons, Keith and Roger, served as loan officers. The current CEO, Paul Anderson, is Cy Anderson’s grandson.

The bank has only been robbed once. On Jan. 3, 1929, robbers walked through the front door and drilled through the safe. A group known as the Gunnison Posse apprehended the robbers and recovered the loot.

During a 100th anniversary celebration in 2009, Anderson said, “The reason we’re in business is because of the customers we have. As we build loyalty with them, they are loyal to us. We intend to keep providing the same great service to our customers that we have for the last 100 years.”

Inspection puts Fairview culinary spring line at top of priority list


By Suzanne Dean





FAIRVIEW—The Fairview City Council will hold a special meeting Wednesday night (after press time) to consider awarding an engineering contract for rebuilding the town’s main water pipeline.

The meeting is the culmination of concerns that came to light a little more than three months ago when Justin Jackson, the city water superintendent, and Logan Ludvigson, his assistant, did something that hasn’t been done in memory.

They walked the full length of the so-called spring line, the pipeline that brings water from the city’s four culinary springs in Fairview Canyon to two connected water tanks near the mouth of the canyon. The line supplies approximately 50 percent of Fairview’s culinary water.

“There were no obvious signs of water loss,” Jackson told the city council in October when he reported on his examination of the line. “…That doesn’t mean the walk was good.”

The spring line starts approximately parallel to the U.S. Forest Service boundary several miles up the canyon and, through various twists and turns, drops 13,500 feet before it reaches its terminus.

During their hike through rough terrain, fallen trees and across the stream multiple times, Jackson and Ludvigson found all kinds of problems.

They found the pipeline crossed the main Fairview Canyon stream four times. At each crossing point, the pipe ran through elevated concrete or wood pillars.

The above-ground sections of pipe are vulnerable because trees can fall on them and bend or break pipes, Mayor David Taylor said in an interview Tuesday.

And every winter, he said, one or two cars slide off the Fairview Canyon road and careen down the slope. There are currently four cars in the ravine on the south side of the road that have simply been abandoned because it’s too hard to get them back up to the road. A careening car could break a pipe, especially at a crossing.

At one crossing built in 1983, the pipe was sagging in the middle between its supports. The cables that were supposed to be holding it taut to the support structure “are not providing any support at all,” Jackson told the city council.

The lowest stream crossing was built in 1939. “Nothing’s been done to it since 1939,” Jackson said. The pipe has “paper-thin walls” and “is not very strong.” And trees have fallen on it.

“I do not know why we cross the river four times,” Jackson told the city council. “We cross it, then we cross back, then we come down and little further and cross it…and come down and cross it again. Every time we cross we are exposed to danger.”

At one place, not at a crossing, there was a joint in the pipe. A tree had fallen on it, causing the pipe to bend.

“I honestly in my opinion, have no idea how that compression joint could be holding that pipe together,” Jackson told the council. “There’s nothing on this planet that says it should be held together. That’s probably the No. 1 issue with the spring line.”

Jackson also reported that because of drought conditions, the volume of water being delivered through the spring line had dropped 21 percent over the previous three years.

“There’s technology that didn’t exist in 1983 (when the newest section of the pipe was installed) that would enable the city to get a lot more water out of the spring line than it’s getting now,” Jackson said.

Taylor said city officials have talked about fixing the spring line for 30 years. But when he heard Jackson’s report, and especially when he saw the photos Jackson took, “all of a sudden this moved to No. 1 on the hit parade” (the roster of city projects).

The spring line examination coincided with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation launching its Emergency Community Water Assistance Grant (ECWAG) program to help communities hit by drought.

Because water delivery from the spring line has dropped so significantly, Fairview, by all appearances, meets the grant criteria.

But the money is “emergency” funds and probably will only be available for a while. “I don’t want to be left out,” Taylor said. “I feel an urgency to move sooner rather than later.”

At the October meeting, the council voted to issue a request-for-proposal to engineering firms with experience in water systems. The scope of work was devising a plan to redevelop the four springs and completely rebuilding the spring line.

Three engineering firms have responded. The mayor said he expected the council to award the design contract to one of the firms at the special meeting on Wednesday.

The total project is expected to run between $1 and $1.5 million. Taylor said if the city doesn’t get the full amount required through an ECWAG grant, it will seek other grants and loans.

Eccles Foundation’s generosity to rural communities has impact in Sanpete


By Robert Green




Sanpete County residents can be thankful the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation hasn’t forgotten rural Utah when it comes to generosity.

In fact, nearly every city, town and school in Sanpete has benefited from the Foundation’s philanthropy in the past 36 years.

In Sanpete County alone, the Foundation has helped fund buildings at Snow College; restored opera houses, theatres and dance halls; preserved a multitude of landmarks, museums, art galleries and libraries; beautified many cities, roads and streets; and fixed up many parks, playgrounds and schoolyards.

The Foundation has just released a 90-page report that commemorates its 60th anniversary and outlines over $600 million in grants and donations the Foundation has made since 1982 to improve the lives of all Utahns.

It’s no secret the Foundation goes out of its way to help small communities.

Lori Nay, the mayor of Gunnison and co-director of the Casino Star Theater, will attest to this. “The Eccles Foundation has been a savior to rural Utah,” she said. “They are one of the few foundations that reach out and care about rural Utah and the things we care about. They really do invest in our communities in ways that matter. So I think they are an incredible organizations and I am grateful for them.”

The Foundation has helped fund many different projects for Gunnison City since 2004, particularly helping preserve the Casino Star Theater, she said.

The Eccles Foundation has played a significant and crucial role in establishing the Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area (MPNHA), said Monte Bona, MPNHA executive director who is  executive director of the Mt. Pleasant Community Development and Renewal Agency.

“They started out giving us a $10,000 grant to help prepare a management plan (for the MPNHA) and over the years they have contributed millions of dollars to many worthwhile projects in Sanpete County,” he said. “We always try to work closely with them as they are extremely helpful with our projects.”

Sanpete County residents have appreciated the benevolence of the Eccles Foundation for a long time now.

A 2003 editorial in the Sanpete Messenger thanked the Foundation for giving more than $2 million to help build the Snow College Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, the Pioneer Memorial Gardens at the base of the Manti Temple and the Greenwood Student Center.

“Where would Sanpete County (or Utah for that matter) be without the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation?” the editorial asked.

Spencer F. Eccles, chairman and CEO, said the Eccles Foundation was created to strengthen communities and touch the lives of people in every corner of the state.

“I can’t help but be an optimist! I love Utah,” Eccles wrote in the 60th Anniversary Report. “I believe in our communities. I firmly believe in our people and especially our youth, who represent the future of our state.

“I feel greatly blessed to be a Utahn and an American. I am proud of our strong values of compassion, integrity and hard work, and of our rich Western heritage—all of which set the stage for a promising future that gives each of us an opportunity to make a meaningful difference.”


Top 10 Stories of 2018


1. Wildfires

Four wildfires during August and September forced hundreds of Sanpete County residents, and thousands living just beyond the county boundaries, to evacuate.

Virtually all firefighters and a large contingent of law enforcement officers from throughout the county were pressed into service. They emerged as heroes.

The scariest fire for county residents was the Hilltop fire, which broke out the afternoon of Aug. 6, a Monday. The fire started in Blackhawk Estates, a mountain-type development between Indianola and Milburn, and traveled south along a ridge into the Milburn Valley.

Flames and smoke billow along a ridge between Indianola and Milburn during the first 24 hours of the Hilltop Fire in August. (Inset) An airplanes carrying a huge water bucket pulls water out of an irrigation pond west of Milburn. The plane later dumped water on vegetation around threatened homes. Sanpete was affected by four wildfires during August and September. Besides Hilltop, we saw the Coal Hollow, Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires. The Messenger rated wildfires as the top story of 2018.

On Monday night, 50-foot flames were heading toward upscale homes in the Milburn area. Within 24 hours, the fire grew from 50 acres to 1,400 acres with zero percent containment.

Privately owned and government-owned bulldozers started building berms around homes to keep the fire away. Forest Service planes dipped into an irrigation pond on the west side of Milburn to fill huge buckets and then dropped the water around the berms to wet down vegetation. Other planes swooped down dropping loads of red retardant.

Referring to the bulldozer operators, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who lives in Fairview a few miles south of Milburn, quipped, “This is not clearing land for a Walmart.”

By Tuesday morning, 95 local fire fighters, 16 engines and four bulldozers were fighting the fire. Sheriff Brian Nielson called in nearly all his deputes and all 40 members of Sanpete Search and Rescue. Reinforcements arrived from the Utah Highway Patrol. In all, there were 137 officers on the scene directing traffic and going door-to-door to warn people to evacuate.

About 350 residents in Blackhawk Estates, Hideaway Valley and half of Milburn were evacuated. The Red Cross set up a “reception center” at the Indianola Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

During the day Tuesday, some of the evacuees stood across the road from the Indianola Fire Station watching the air attack on the fire. One gestured toward a plane. “Without those, nothing’s going to stop it,” she said. “Yesterday, they saved us.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Sanpete County Fire Warden Tom Peterson decided to use a “hand crew” that had come in from the Logan City Fire Department to do a risky “back burn.” They went to where the fire was advancing and lit vegetation on fire. It worked. The advance of the flames and smoke slowed down significantly.

Nonetheless, the Hilltop Fire smoldered for days. By Friday, it was 60 percent contained. Early the next week, 100 percent containment was reached.

There were no injuries and no homes were lost. “The footprint of this fire, in the location that it is, to be in the position we’re in with the limited amount of loss, is incredible,” Sheriff Nielson told a community meeting.

But there was a lot more to come. As U.S. Forest Service teams and local firefighters were wrapping up Hilltop, the Coal Hollow Fire was exploding in the Manti-LaSal National Forest near the junction of U.S. 89 and U.S. 6. Ultimately, it grew to 30,000 acres.

At different times, the fire forced closure of U.S. 6. Once, it jumped the highway to the north side of the road. The Forest Service sent in a Type 1 Incident Team—the type of crew that fights the most serious fires.

Then on Sept. 6, the Pole Creek Fire started. It traveled through parts of Utah, Sanpete and Juab counties, ultimately growing to 100,000 acres. Most of the burned areas had little population.

Near the same time, the Bald Mountain Fire started burning in the Wasatch Mountains east of highly populated areas of Utah County. The Pole Creek and Bald Mountain fires burned together to become the biggest fire in the United States at the time.

U.S. 89 was closed at the Sanpete County-Utah County line. More than 6,000 people living in 2,000 homes, mostly in Utah County, were evacuated.

While not directly affected, Sanpete got involved, because for some of the evacuees, the closest shelter was the Indianola Ward. And firefighters from Fountain Green, Wales, Sterling, Manti, Mt. Pleasant and Ephraim were called in to help state and federal fire crews.

Late in the year, the Utah Division of Fire, Forestry and State Lands reported on results of an investigation into the Hilltop Fire. The cause was children playing with matches. The state decided it would not pursue any charges or seek any compensation in the case.


2. Water Woes


The past year has been described as the driest on record since 1977. That was more than 40 years ago.

In May, the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) reported snowpack in the mountains above the Sanpitch River Basin was 8 percent of normal and reservoir storage in Sanpete County was 9 percent of normal.

Norman Jensen of Centerfield, a large hay producer, said the Gunnison Valley Irrigation Co. normally delivers 1.25 to 1.5 acre feet of water per water share. The company told him to expect less than 0.5 acre feet in 2018.

The low snowpack affected springs and wells that supply culinary water for towns. Fairview, Spring City, Ephraim, Sterling and Mayfield, among others, reported the volume of water running into their culinary systems had plummeted. Ephraim said flow was down 1,000 gallons per minute compared to past years.

Recent photo shows Nine-Mile Reservoir south of Manti is bone dry. The past year was possible the driest in 40 years, especially in term of snowpack. Lack of runoff forced towns to impose watering restrictions. Several towns launched projects to increase water flow into their culinary systems. The Messenger rated water woes as the No. 2 story of 2018.

Projects to upgrade retention ponds, springs, wells and water delivery lines got underway, or moved from the back burner to front burner. Among towns launching or planning major projects were Fairview, Mt. Pleasant, Spring City, Sterling and Mayfield.

As if the water shortage wasn’t enough, serious maintenance issues cropped up. In June, two water line breaks in the mountains east of Ephraim caused the city to lose 1 million gallons.

In July, Ephraim imposed outdoor watering restrictions for the first time in memory. In September, the pump on the Ephraim well went out. The well is the only backup source when water from mountain springs is not sufficient. The city immediately banned all outdoor watering for the rest of the year.

Likewise in Fairview, watering restrictions were in place when the pump went out on the Sammy Well, an important source of culinary water during the summer. The city asked residents to stop all outdoor watering. Citizens complied and water consumption dropped. The pump was fixed in about three weeks.

At year end, the NRCS reported snow accumulation in October and November in the San Pitch River Basin was above normal for the 2019 water year.

That snow is critically needed, Justin Jackson, water supervisor in Fairview, told the Fairview City Council. “If we do not get a heavy snowfall this winter, Fairview City will never have experienced the type of restrictions that will go into effect next year. Hold onto your belts. I hope nobody loves their lawn that much.”


3. Coltharp-Shaffer child kidnapping and sex abuse case

A story that broke in December 2017 about a Spring City man, Jon Coltharp, 34, and his associate Samuel Shaffer, 35, played out in court through much of 2018.

Samuel Shaffer during a court hearing in June. He was an associate of John Coltharp in Knights of the Crystal Blade, a religious group that advocated polygamy and child marriage. He was ultimately sentenced to 1-15 years in prison.

Coltharp and Shaffer were founders of a religious group called Knights of the Crystal Blade that advocated polygamy and child marriage.

At the end of 2017, Coltharp’s four children were rescued from western Iron County and returned to their mother, who was divorced from Coltharp. The children were found in large, unheated storage containers.

In January, Sanpete County Attorney Kevin Daniels said an investigation had found Coltharp and Shaffer had “married” each other’s daughters and then done “sexual married things” with the 8-year-old girls.”

Coltharp was charged with one count of kidnapping and one count of sodomy, both first-degree felonies; and one count of obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony.

Shaffer was charged with two counts of sodomy, both first-degree felonies; one count of obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony; and one count of lewdness with a child, a Class A misdemeanor.

In June, a plea deal was reached. Coltharp pleaded guilty to one count of child sodomy, a first-degree felony, and one count of child bigamy, a second-degree felony. A kidnapping charge and an obstruction of justice charge were dismissed.

Shortly afterward, Shaffer pleaded guilty to one count of sodomy on a child, also a first-degree felony.

Daniels said he had reduced Shaffer’s charges more than Coltharp’s because Shaffer had provided information helpful in prosecuting Coltharp and had agreed to testify against him.

At a sentencing hearing in August, Daniels described the impact of Coltharp’s actions on two of Shaffer’s girls.

Daniels reported the girls had trouble eating, did not speak to other children and had misunderstandings about personal relationships.

Attorney Paul Frischknecht (front) stands next to his client John Coltharp as Coltharp receives consecutive sentences of 25 years to life for child sodomy and 1-15 years for child bigamy. At the rear is a court bailiff.

The grandfather of the Coltharp children quoted statements from the children about their father. One said, “I hate him so much.”

“I know my religious views are not shared by society, and that puts me in the minority,” Coltharp said in court. “But that’s exactly where God’s chosen few have always found themselves—in the minority.”

The judge sentenced Coltharp to 26 years to life in prison on the sodomy charge, to be followed by 15 years to life for obstruction of justice.

In an interview with the Messenger after sentencing, Coltharp said he believed in the work of Joseph Smith “and I believe I have been called to pick up where he left off.”

He claimed his and Shaffer’s daughters had consented to being married, and that he and Shaffer had received revelations that the marriages needed to be consummated.

He also said he didn’t expect to serve his full sentences because he expected the world to end or to be killed in prison before the sentences were up.

At Shaffer’s sentencing hearing, he said he realized sexual activity with the young girls had harmed them and had decided it was wrong. He was sentenced to 1-15 years in prison.


4. Shakeup in Mt. Pleasant city government

During 2018, the Mt. Pleasant City Council started exercising what in the past had been executive functions performed by the mayor.

On grounds the city wasn’t running efficiently, different council members started supervising city departments. The council hired two new supervisory employees.

There was a little discussion of possible organizational changes in council meetings. The council’s initiatives didn’t really come into focus until Mayor Sandra Bigler and the public works director, Sam Day, resigned.

Dan Anderson, Mt Pleasant’s new interm mayor, presided over his first council meeting in October after he was appointed by the city council.

Subsequently, Laurie Hansen, the long-time librarian also resigned. The library was one of the city departments that had fallen under the jurisdiction of a council member.

In Bigler’s resignation letter, she said she had served 21 years in city government, including many years on the city council, two partial terms as mayor and one full, elected term as mayor. She had been elected to a second full term as mayor in 2017.

“During the eight months since I was most recently elected, I tried to function as the chief executive, as I had during my previous service as mayor,” her letter wrote. “The council and I disagree on my role as chief executive, which has made it difficult for me to operate as mayor. Therefore, for the good of the city, I decided to resign.”

Councilman Kevin Stallings, the lead city council figure in the controversy, said the council would issue a statement explaining its actions at meeting on Sept. 11.

But the thing that stood out about the statement, which was read by Councilwoman Heidi Kelso, was criticism of former Mayor David Blackham over an employee’s allegations more than a year earlier that he had sexually harassed her.

On Oct. 9, Bigler, Blackham and Draper filed suit in 6th District Court claiming that beginning while Blackham was mayor, and continuing after Bigler took over, the council had illegally usurped the executive powers of the mayor.

The complaint said council members, in violation of state law and city ordinances, began “inserting” themselves into day-to-day oversight, “creating conflict with department heads.”

On Nov. 6, the city council appointed Dan Anderson, a councilman, as interim mayor until the next election in 2020. Russell Keisel, who is retired from Rocky Mountain Power, was appointed to fill Anderson’s council seat.


5. Fayette clerk convicted of theft of public funds

Early in the year, Tracy Mellor, who had been Fayette town clerk since the early 2000s, resigned after being confronted by Brenda Liefson, the town’s new mayor.

Liefson had found checks dating back to 2009 written to R&T’s, a home-based business owned by Mellor’s husband. The mayor could not find any invoices showing any work R&T’s had done for the town.

The Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office launched an investigation. Detectives reported finding $220,000 in checks from Fayette Town to R&T’s written between 2014 and 2018. The town budget is about $100,000 per year, so it appeared Mellor had taken the equivalent of two year’s receipts.

The sheriff’s investigation also found that after being confronted, Mellor had attempted to alter the payee name on some cancelled checks to remove R&T’s name and substitute names of vendors who frequently provided services to the city, such as Rocky Mountain Power.

Tracy Kay Mellor, Fayette town clerk, pleaded guilty to diverting $153,000 in town money to her husband’s home-based business. Some townspeople got angry when she was sentenced to only 45 days in jail.

As the case proceeded, the amount Mellor was officially charged with taking was dropped to $153,000 because the statute of limitations had run out on some of the transactions.

Mellor was charged with nine counts of misuse of public money. She pleaded guilty to three counts.

But Wes Mangum, deputy county attorney, said he was “shocked” when a presentence report recommended no jail time because Mellor had no prior record. While prosecutors are discouraged from deviating from presentence reports, Mangum asked for 60 days in jail.

Judge Wallace Lee ended up sentencing her to 45 days of jail and three years’ probation. He also ordered her to pay back $153,000.

Patricia Murphy, a town board member who represented the town in court, said, “The town has been extremely violated by this, because our trust was violated.”

The sentence triggered public indignation. An anonymous letter was sent to every household in Fayette asking residents to make their feelings about the sentence known to the judge.


6. Sexual assaults at Gunnison Valley High School

In a case that made statewide news and divided the Gunnison Valley community, three football players at Gunnison Valley High School were charged with sexually assaulting a 14-year-old freshman player before football practice.

Misty Cox, the parent of the 14-year-old victim, said two of the boys had held down her son, while a third pulled down his pants and rubbed his buttocks and genitals in her son’s face.

In a TV interview, the 14-year-old said, “I wanted it to be stopped. I didn’t want somebody else to go through that, because that’s just wrong. I decided I needed to talk about it.”

After Cox and her son reported the incident, Officer Carl Wimmer, the school resource officer, launched and investigation. More than a dozen Gunnison Valley students, including males and females, told him they had been the targets of similar assaults.

The students said the primary perpetrator in the assaults had been the same sophomore student who had exposed himself to Cox’s son.

The sophomore was charged with six counts of object rape, all first-degree felonies, and four counts of forcible sexual abuse, which are second-degree felonies.

The boys who held the freshman player down during the assault were each charged with one count of forcible sexual abuse, a second-degree felony.

In late October, Cox and her son filed a civil rights suit in federal court claiming Kent Larsen, superintendent of the South Sanpete School District; Trevor Powell, principal at Gunnison Valley High School; and Ryan Anderson, the athletic director (since resigned) knew the assaults were going on, but did nothing to stop them.

According to the lawsuit, Cox met with Larsen, who told her the assault on her son was a case of “boys being boys” and was simply a hazing incident that “went too far.”

On Nov. 14, about 70 people, mostly parents of students, attended a South Sanpete School Board meeting at the high school. The most vocal parent said he had heard the school board was going to try to have Wimmer, who works for the Gunnison Valley Police Department, removed from the investigation.

Kim Pickett, chairman of the school board, said there were no plans to try to remove Wimmer from his post.

Subsequently, anonymous callers to the Sanpete Messenger, said most of the people at the meeting were there to support the parents of the boy facing the most charges. The callers said most of the people at the meeting wanted Wimmer removed, although no one spoke up to say so.

The callers claimed Cox was a member of a religious congregation Wimmer heads in Gunnison. They charged Wimmer was biased in the investigation.

As the year ended, Wes Mangum, deputy county attorney, who is prosecuting the case, denied any bias. “Nobody in Gunnison except me and the police have the facts,” he said.

He added that some people might claim the sexual abuse incidents weren’t serious. “We know otherwise,” he said.


7. Pitman Farms of California buys Norbest, saving company from possible liquidation.

In late 2017, the Messenger heard talk that Norbest, owner of the turkey processing plants in Moroni and Salina that employ more than 300 people, was facing bankruptcy and possible liquidation.

Then in January, Pitman Family Farms, a chicken and turkey growing operation in Fresno County, Calif., announced it had purchased the company.

Apparently, key people in the turkey industry, who were never identified, had brokered the deal and very possibly saved the Sanpete County turkey industry.

The Pitmans were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Pitman and Norbest had similar mission statements emphasizing humane treatment of animals and avoiding use of antibiotics in poultry.


8. Mormon Miracle Pageant to come to an end

Robert and Mary Henshaw, lead characters in the Mormon Miracle Pageant, reunite after death in one of the performances. After the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints posted a statement on its website saying “large productions such as pageants are discouraged,” the Manti stake president said the Pageant would end after the 2019 performance.

In early November, President Mark Olson of the Manti Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced that after 51 years, the 2019 performance would be “the end of the pageant as we know it.”

Olson’s comments followed an announcement on the church website saying local celebrations of history and culture may be appropriate, but “larger productions such as pageants are discouraged.”

Olson said a local committee would consider whether the stake should substitute the pageant with a locally funded program. As of year end, there has been no report on those discussions.

The same narration tape recorded in the 1960s was still being used for the Mormon Miracle Pageant. Ivo Peterson, a former pageant director who has a professional theater background, said the church was at a point where it needed to invest time and money in rewriting the pageant, or discontinue it.

“Ultimately, the church is looking to reduce and simplify programs and take away heavy responsibilities from individuals and families,” Olson said.

He added that “the church had taken a serious look at the sacredness of the temple grounds” where the pageant had been performed since the 1970s, and decided the pageant might not be a fit for the location.


9. Boom year for Sanpete economy

Looking back on 2018, there is cause to celebrate because the Sanpete County economy keeps getting better.

Utah Department of Workforce Services (DWS) statistics showed Sanpete going into 2018 strong and coming out in even better shape.

“There is little to criticize in Sanpete County’s current economy,” DWS economist Lecia Langston said. “Job growth remains strong with many industries participating in the expansion.”

The most recent job growth figures released by the DWS show about 4.5 percent growth from the previous year. That compares to 3.3 percent statewide and just 1.7 percent in the nation as a whole.

Manufacturing led the job-creation sectors in Sanpete, accounting for more than 200 of the county’s 370 new jobs.

Langston says Sanpete’s strong labor market has put upward pressure on wages, with the countywide average monthly wage last reported at $2,502; information, technology and professional/business services led the way on average monthly wages at $4,840.

Langston says the county’s unemployment rate is holding steady at 3.7 percent, which is equal to nationwide unemployment.

The countywide gross taxable sales are showing a healthy 7 percent increase in the most recent DWS data. Business investment in manufacturing coupled, with retail growth pushing the sales up.


10. New faces in county government

This year saw a changing of the guard after Claudia Jarrett, who had served four terms as county commissioner, announced her retirement.

A few months earlier, Jarrett had passed the chairmanship of the county commission to Scott Bartholomew.

In April, Jarrett took a stab at Utah House District 58, which includes Sanpete and Juab counties, and at incumbent Derrin Owens. But at the Republican State Convention on April 21, Owens got 36 delegate votes to Jarrett’s 16.

Later, in the Republican primary in June, Edwin Sunderland of Chester defeated Justin Atkinson of Mt. Pleasant for the Republican nomination to Jarrett’s seat by a 55 to 45 percent margin.




Gunnison abuse cases not sensationalized, may be resolved in January, attorney says


By Suzanne Dean





MANTI— The cases of three youths charged in a sexual assault last September at Gunnison Valley High School are still open but may be resolved in January, according to the Sanpete County deputy county attorney.

But meanwhile, Wes Mangum says there is little to no merit to allegations that some of the families who initiated complaints against the three boys, and against one boy in particular, have sensationalized the incidents.

One of the youths who had a single charge of forcible sexual abuse has admitted to the offense,  Mangum said. The court is waiting for a report designed to aid in disposition of the case. The deputy county attorney said he expected the case to be concluded in January.

A second youth who has also been charged with one count of forcible sexual abuse has a hearing in January and is expected to either admit or deny the charge at that time, Mangum said.

The youth with the most serious charges—six counts of object rape, all first-degree felonies, and five counts of forcible sexual abuse, second-degree felonies, has a pretrial hearing in January. That could be a prelude to resolving his case.

The Messenger has received anonymous calls saying at least one of the families bringing charges is in a religious congregation headed by Officer Carl Wimmer, the school resource officer who has been the lead investigator.

One caller said many of the 70-plus people who appeared at a South Sanpete School Board meeting in November hoped and expected the school board would try to get Wimmer removed from the case. But no one with that viewpoint spoke up at the meeting. The school board ended up assuring people at the meeting that it supported Wimmer

Meanwhile, multiple people have told the Messenger that some members of the LDS ward where the boy with the most serious charges attends have come to the defense of the boy and his parents.

Mangum says the County Attorney’s Office is aware of criticism of Wimmer, but says, “We believe the investigation was done properly.:

Mangum says he has a 30-page report, including statements from at least 20  witnesses, documenting that serious sexual abuse incidents have occurred.

“None of the people down in Gunnison except me and the police have the facts,” he said. “There is a very disturbing pattern here.” He said some people might want to minimize the incidents. “We know otherwise.”

Mangum added, “It’s very sensitive, very emotional on both sides. This case has kept me up at night more than any case I’ve had so far.”

He said his focus is getting justice for the victims and getting the juvenile perpetrators the help they need. It’s a balance between justice and mercy, he said. “It’s a juggling act.”

He added that he hoped the whole case can be resolved quickly so the community could get on with the healing process.

The case blew open when a freshman football player reported that two boys had held him down after a football practice while a third boy pulled down his pants and rubbed his buttocks and genitalia over the freshman boy’s face.

Subsequently, at least a dozen other Gunnison Valley High School students, both boys and girls, came forward to report similar assaults.

‘Tax increase has made us whole again,’ Sanpete commissioner says


By James Tilson




MANTI—The Sanpete County budget has been remarkable stable since the county implemented a big tax increase in late 2017.

The budget for calendar 2019 is actually down $34,000 from the 2018 budget, a relatively small amount for a budget over $15 million.

The 2019 budget totals out to $15,684,982, compared to $15,719,446 in 2018. When asked how the county ended up with a budget that is nearly identical to this year, Sanpete County Commission Chair Scott Bartholomew said, “It just happened that way.”

“It’s always a struggle to make ends meet in a small county,” he said. “But we have departments that are very good at finding the best way to stretch a dollar. At the same time, we also need to pay our employees what they’re worth. We’ve traditionally done that by enhancing our benefits package to offset the salary that we can’t afford.”

Commissioner Claudia Jarrett echoed that sentiment when the commission approved the budget last week. “Nearly every department is at or near last year’s requests,” she said. “Our county employees have become experts in efficiency.”

Bartholomew noted the property tax increase from two years ago had the expected effect. “It has made us whole again.” Prior to the increase, the county had been drawing from reserves just to pay its bills and dropping the reserves dangerously low. With the current revenue stream, the reserves have come up to previous levels, he said.

Another positive factor in the short term has been the renewal of federal Payments in Lieu of Taxation (PILT). PILT has traditionally been a large proportion of county revenue, and the 2019 budget is no different. However, when the Trump Administration first took office, the payments were cut off, which created a shortfall.

In 2019, Sanpete County has budgeted to receive $1,448,808 from the federal government. Bartholomew says congressional representatives have assured him that Sanpete can count on those funds for at least the next three to four years. “But nothing is truly secure,” he said. “Just look at last year.”

The budget also includes a pay increase plan aimed at helping county agencies retain their employees. The 2019 budget includes a six-year step wage increase for all county employees. Bartholomew admitted that the idea to include a schedule of wage increases originated out of discussions with the Sheriff’s Office. But the commission realized that all departments were having the same issues trying to recruit and keep their employees.

Retiring Auditor Ilene Roth noted that the expense budget is stable across the board  compared to last year. She said there are just three significant differences from last year.

In 2018, the budget included about $830,000, much of it from grants and donations for fairgrounds improvements. Most of the improvements are complete, and most of the money has been spent, so the amount listed for improvements in 2019 is $22,000. And the Fair Board hopes more private donations come in to cover most of that.

Last year, the county budgeted about $100,000 to help the Sanpete Pantry resurface its parking lot. That project is finished, so that expense is gone.

Finally, the county has changed its system of providing public defenders, and special attorneys if a case arises where one of the county attorneys has a conflict of interest.

The county is contracting with a firm in Utah County for attorney services. The contract helps guarantee that the same attorney will stay on a case from beginning to end. A new feature is an evaluation component that reviews the quality of services provided. Because of the changes, the budget for public defender and other attorney services has gone from $166,300 in 2018 to $275,400 for 2019.

Compared to many local governments, Sanpete County is remarkably debt free. It’s biggest debt service obligation is $943,000 annually for the Sheriff’s Complex, including the county jail. The county also pays an $18,000 annual payment on the Central Utah Counseling Center building, but it receives special revenue to offset most of that cost. The county pays a $12,000 annual payment on the fire station in Indianola. However, Roth pointed out, the fire station is being paid by a local assessment, and not from countywide revenue.

It was here, along the perimeter fence of the White Hills Landfill, that the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office discovered a drop-off location for drugs headed to the Central Utah Correctional Facility. Methamphetamine was hidden in a Weinerschnitzel fast food bag. The drugs were supposed to be picked up by inmates on a work-release crew. Five people have been charged in connection with the plan.

Officials thwart prison drug-smuggling plan


By Robert Stevens




GUNNISON—The Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office has once again used surveillance techniques to stop a drug smuggling ring. But this time, the ring of would-be drug-runners were already behind bars.

The smugglers were inmates in the Central Utah Correctional Facility (CUCF) who hatched a plan to sneak contraband into the prison with the help of a recently paroled comrade.

But their plan unraveled when monitored mail and phone correspondence tipped off prison officials. They contacted the sheriff’s office, which launched an investigation and made the following arrests.

Talon Hamann, 24; Kelcy Roberts, 28; Patrick Sullivan, 32; Colton Olsen, 23, and Brian Patrick Olsen, 55, are each charged in 6th District Court with attempted drug distribution in a prison, a second-degree felony. Brian Olsen received an additional charge of drug possession, a third-degree felony.

According to court documents, the plan fell apart after conversations between Brian Olsen, who was out of prison on parole, and Colton Olsen clued officials in on a plan to drop off drugs in a discrete location where inmates on a prison work crew could pick up them up.

According to court documents, part of one message between the two reads, “Travel until you see the Gunnison Valley High School, where you will turn left again, traveling past the high school. You will travel down the paved road until you see a turnoff on the right with the sign ‘White Hills Sanitation’ located in Mayfield, Utah. You will travel, still down a paved road until you get to the main gate with a smaller gate to the left of it. Count out 10 or 11 fence posts and you will find a small bush. Under this bush, bury the package in a fast-food bag and place a rock over it.”

Investigators beat the inmates to the punch by visiting the drop-off location, where they found the drugs right where the message said they would be, in a Wienerschnitzel bag.

With the drugs in hand, the investigators swapped out “decoy” drugs and allowed the inmates’ plan to proceed. The inmates picked up the fake drugs and took them back to the prison. Upon arrival, they were searched and arrested.

If found guilty, the incident could earn the inmates extended time in the Utah prison system.


The Lyle Young family lines up with county commissioners as Lyle Young Welding of Gunnison is named Sanpete County Business of the Year. From left are Trevor, Emily, George, Lyle and Julie Young; Commissioners Scott Bartholomew and Claudia Jarrett; and Cindy LaCrue.

Six County AOG honors Lyle Young Welding as business of the year


By Robert Green




GUNNISON—Lyle Young Welding, owned by Lyle and Julie Young of Gunnison, has been selected by the Six County Association of Governments as the 2018 Sanpete County Business of the Year.

Sanpete County Commissioner Claudia Jarrett presented the award at a recognition ceremony on Dec. 5 in Richfield.

The Youngs were recognized for their outstanding contributions to Sanpete County’s economy and community development.

Over 31 years in the welding business, they have created many jobs. And many of those jobs were badly needed.

Lyle takes pride in his employees and claims he has the best crew ever. “Sometimes it’s a struggle to find good help,” he says. “I’ve had trouble myself. But right now, I’ve got a great crew.”

Lyle has nine employees, who he says are all skillful, hardworking welders and laborers. And if you ask them, he is the best boss ever.

Part of Lyle’s success is that he is very content with his station in life. He loves where he lives and what he d

Commissioner Claudia Jarrett displays plaque she received for 16 years of service on various boards and committees of the Six County Association of Governments, including two terms are chair of the board. She is retiring from the county commission at the end of December.


“I live in the greatest country on earth, and living in rural Utah is the best of that,” he says.

The Youngs have always given support to those in need. They are known for donating their time and resources, and participating in fundraisers.

Recently, the Youngs built and donated swing sets for the Children’s Justice Center and helped with the Sanpete County Fairgrounds expansion.

With a 10,000-square-feet shop, 5 acres of surrounding yard and a fleet of specialized welding trucks, the Youngs feel comfortable tackling all sorts of welding projects.

The company excels in building hay barn structures, and their work comes highly recommended by farmers and ranchers in Sanpete County and adjacent states.

People who know the Youngs say the business has thrived because of the owners’ honesty and hard work. Lyle and Julie Young started working out of a detached garage in their first home in Gunnison in 1987.

As their business started grew, they began planning for a larger shop and home at 1700 East and U.S. 89, where they operate today. They have plans to expand even more.

Lyle and Julie have five sons: Wayne, Wes, George, Trevor and Wyatt. They have eight grandchildren. Lyle likes to spend his free time at his farm in Sterling.

Five years from now, Lyle would to see Gunnison retaining its small-town charm and remaining the way it is now. In 10 years, he hopes for more of the same.

At the same event, Commissioner Jarrett was recognized for her 16 years on various Six County boards and committees, including two terms as chair of the board. She is stepping down at the end of December after four terms on the county commission.

Gunnison addressing sewer lagoon problems: metering, trash, odor


By Robert Stevens




GUNNISON—Gunnison City leaders are preparing to make improvements to the sewer system to combat three significant problems.

The city has brought in Jones and DeMille Engineering to find cost efficient solutions to the problems. The firm was scheduled to present its findings to the Gunnison City Council Tuesday night (after press time).

In an interview with the Messenger, Garrick Willden, a Jones and Demille engineer, explained the scope of the improvements which Gunnison Mayor Lori Nay and the city council have asked the firm to address.

The first issue is inability to properly meter the sewage going into the sewer lagoon shared by Gunnison City and Centerfield City.

“This creates a problem because the state requires you to have those numbers, but it also makes it hard to tell how well the lagoon is functioning and at what rate the amount of sewage is increasing each year,” Willden says.

Willden says accurate metering data is needed so the city can increase sewage treatment capacity as the volume of sewage increases.

The inability to meter is caused by the conjoined sewer system and the effect Centerfield City’s sewer output has on the Gunnison City meter.

A meter is already in place, Willden says, but Centerfield sewer system is a type that has to be force-lifted up through the pipes, and when it gets pumped through to the pipe where Gunnison and Centerfield sewers meet, it causes a backflow up the Gunnison City sewer pipe. That influx of reversed sewage throws off the meter and produces inaccurate readings, Willden says.

Willden says the best choice to fix the metering is the installation of a new meter further back upstream in the Gunnison pipes, which will negate the effects from the backflow from Centerfield, restore consistency in the metering data and return the system to state compliance.



The next problem plaguing the Gunnison City sewer system is trash getting into it. Willden says this is in part due to a large amount of trash that comes through the sewer pipes at the Central Utah Correctional Facility, but also from trash being flushed down the drains of homes and businesses in Gunnison.

The inaccurately named “flushable wipes” that are used primarily for babies are one of the biggest sources of trash coming through the sewer lines, he said.

“People think they can flush baby wipes and stuff like that, but it creates a problem because lagoon systems are setup to handle organic material,” Willden says. “The bugs in the lagoon system can break organic materials down to almost nothing, but systems that have a lot of inorganic trash coming into them can fill up quickly and need drudging. [The sewage] doesn’t break down or go anywhere; it just sits there and fills up [the lagoon].”

The trash that gets flushed at the prison ranges from bed sheets to plastic wrap, and although the prison has a grinder designed to chop up the trash, plenty of sizable pieces get through, contributing to the accumulation of trash in the pipes and lagoon.

It would be economically better if the city moved to a system of screening trash before it gets into the lagoon system, Willden says. By installing a device to screen the sewer trash before it gets to the sewer lagoon, the city can avoid the heavy expense of drudging the lagoon, and instead just clean out the screening device as needed.

Willden says he has been exploring a number of options for the city, and while original cost estimates for a screening device were around $150,000, he says they recently found a unit well-suited for Gunnison’s needs for significantly less—approximately $60,000.

The device would collect trash and automatically rake it into a bin to be removed when full. The system would have a float on it that would read the upstream sewer depth. Once the float sensor kicked in, Willden says it would trigger the device to clear the screen of trash build-up.


Strong odors

The third issue Willden is trying to solve is the strong odor that has become prevalent along the main Gunnison City sewer line, which Willden says effectively begins at the prison and runs through town until it reaches the lagoon.

“They’ve had an odor problem all along that line,” Willden says. “It’s hard to tell how much of that is influenced by the prison, but it does start where the prison sewer comes into the main line.”

Willden says the exact cause of the odor is hard to pin down, but from previous experience, he suspects pipes clogging and backing up, which hinder the sewer’s vital aerobic process. Without a working aerobic process, which breaks down organic sewer materials, the problem can lead to unwanted chemical reactions in the system, and with them, bad microbes, gases and smells.

“What’s worse than the bad smell is the gas created can become concentrated and acidic,” Willden says. “It can eat through concrete.”

Willden says the sewer lines are made up of PVC, so they are resistant to corrosion from acid, but many other components of the system are not PVC. Exposure to the acid can cause problems for the sewer system in the long run.

To solve the odor (and acid) problem, Willden says the most efficient and affordable option is to introduce a specialized microbe into the sewer system.

Manufactured by the company ATS, which specializes in sewer treatment, the microbes compete for the resources that feed bad bacteria.

“They are very specialized,” Wllden says. “It works because they use the same food sources, but you have to continue to put a dosage of these bugs in the system every day to keep it up.”

By eating all the bad microbes’ food, the ATS microbes keep them at bay if they remain at consistent levels in the sewer system.

The cost for the ATS microbes is approximately $8,000 per year, which Willden says is by far the most cost-effective method of combating the issue.

“Right now I am showing the city some of the most cost-effective options out there and once we have honed down which directions to take, we will pursue funding for the project,” Willden says.

Ephraim asks auditor how to prevent embezzlement


By James Tilson




EPHRAIM—The Ephraim City Council found out why external audits don’t always catch embezzlers at a meeting Dec. 5.

Jon Haderlie, senior audit manager for Larson and Company, Spanish Fork, reported on the company’s audit of Ephraim’s books for the 2017-18 fiscal year.

Councilman John Scott asked Larson, “How will [your audit report] identify embezzlers?” Haderlie explained a city’s or company’s internal controls make the main difference as to whether an embezzler will be caught, much more so than an
external audit.

Haderlie added that the size of a city makes a big difference in how much risk of fraud exists and the ability of a city to put controls in place. For example, in a city like Provo, the types of controls put in place have to do with sophisticated digital fraud.

Scott asked Haderlie, “My concern is, are we missing something? What kind of red flag should we be looking for?”

Haderlie said fraud is often very small and hard to notice. At the same time,

Kent Hatch, above with his wife, Annie, was sworn in as Ephraim’s newest police officer in front of the Ephraim City Council last Wednesday, Dec. 5.

distrust of staff can cause friction and inefficiency.

Councilman Greg Boothe asked Larson, “How did Fayette find their fraud?”

“Their mayor discovered it,” Larson said. Larson cited this as an example of internal controls, although he pointed out the obvious flaw in Fayette’s system. “Fayette only had two full-time employees, the clerk and a water service person” so there was inadequate oversight of the clerk.

City manager Brant Hanson said Ephraim had a number of controls in place, which ideally head off the temptation for fraud in the first place. “You want to keep your honest people honest.” Ephraim has a large enough staff to implement effective controls over a number of levels, he said.

The council agreed to have Haderlie come back to give a special presentation solely on internal controls. Haderlie noted that Mt. Pleasant had already scheduled him to do the same for them.

The council was then told that Nancy Bean, founder of the Clothing Resource Bank, was hoping to move to Ephraim to an underused city building. The clothing banks current building, the Manti Improvement Business Association (MIBA) Building in Manti, is scheduled to be torn down to make way for a new courthouse.

She told the council the clothing bank’s long-term plans are to become a 503(c) non-profit organization and apply for grants to build or buy a new building. But in the meantime, she hopes to use the old ambulance shed on 100 West in Ephraim.

City Manager Hanson and Police Chief Aaron Broomhead confirmed the building had been used for storage recently, but could be emptied and turned into a suitable space for the clothing bank. Bean informed the council Utah Foster Care Foundation covers the organization’s insurance. Board member Kirk Williams said the clothing bank is now closed, but plans to open back up in February.

The council voiced its approval and authorized Hanson to move forward with preparations to the building.

Chief Broomhead had his own presentation for the council regarding a possible “Urban Deer Control P

Nancy Bean, founder of the Clothing Resource Bank based in Manti, spoke to the Ephraim City Council last week about plans to move the operation to the former Ephraim ambulance shed on 100 West.


Deer have been habitating in Ephraim for several years and prompting citizen complaints. However, as Broomhead informed the council, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) has jurisdiction over the deer and has specific regulations on how a municipality may deal with deer.

Broomhead went over the steps Ephraim would need to follow in order to qualify for what the DWR calls an “Urban Deer Control Plan.” Ephraim would have to identify and specify the problem, decide how they want to deal with the deer, decide how much they want to spend on the program, and then decide how they want to handle any meat from deer taken in the city.

However, Broomhead said their options are somewhat limited. Because the DWR has identified Sanpete deer as carrying chronic wasting disease, any deer in the county are not able to be relocated anywhere else in the state. This limits Ephraim to either building higher fences around properties, planting deer-resistant plants to discourage deer from grazing or euthanization.

Realizing that any solution would take time to implement, the council decided to first notify the public of the issue and the factors facing the city. After that, the city would seek input from the public as to how to deal with the situation.

Mt. Pleasant industrial park grant on track


By James Tilson




MT. PLEASANT—Mt. Pleasant has secured all of the money needed to match the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA) grant to improve the city industrial park, along with a surplus, which will be used to extend the airstrip road and pay for engineering fees.

During a meeting of the Community Development and Renewal Agency (CDRA), Monte Bona, the executive director, updated the city council on the progress of the industrial park development project.

The project is being funded by an EDA grant of $249,200, with local matching funds to be raised by the city of $123,654, for a total project cost of $372,854.

The city had planned to raise its share of the cost by selling parcels of land on the south end of town near the industrial park and ConToy Arena. Bona announced that all of those sales had been completed, and the $189,000 in proceeds had exceeded the city’s matching goals.

Bona also told the council the city’s “scope of work” memorandum had been submitted to the EDA, and he was confident the project would go forward as amended.

The project will improve and extend roads and utilities in the industrial park to allow for expansion.

Reservoirs in the San Pitch River Basin are bone dry, holding zero percent of their capacity for the second straight year. And water availability index is only 3 percent, according to water reports from the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS).

Water woes continue, but residents hope for more snow


By Robert Green




After suffering through the driest water year on record, Sanpete Valley residents are encouraged by signs that snowpack will return to normal.

The skies opened up on Thanksgiving weekend and brought some desperately needed precipitation to the state, said Troy Brosten, hydrologist for the U.S. Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), which conducts the Utah Snow Survey.

The San Pitch Basin started the 2019 water year off strong with 150 percent of its average water accumulation for the first two months (October and November).

However, this drop in the bucket doesn’t mean that Sanpete’s water woes will end anytime soon.

First of all, reservoirs in San Pitch River Basin are bone dry, holding zero percent of their capacity for the second straight year.

And water availability index is only 3 percent, according to water reports from NRCS. Springs and aquifers are drying up and it takes several years of good water for the aquifers to recover and rejuvenate, Brosten said.

Precipitation in the San Pitch River Basin was only 60 percent of normal in 2018, and this came right after a dismal water year in 2017.

“Last year was horrible for Sanpete,” Brosten said. “The snowpack was bad and the summer was worse.”

Sanpete County is facing extreme drought conditions along with some counties in Southern Utah, Brosten said.

Gunnison and Nine-Mile reservoirs are mostly dry. Many towns in Sanpete County imposed water restrictions on residents last summer.

Farmers in the region lost their irrigation water early, said Garrick Hall, Utah Farm Bureau Central regional manager.

Gunnison Valley farmer Stan Jensen said drought conditions last year reduced his crop production by 40 percent. Along with his dad and brother, he raises hay and corn in the Gunnison Valley east of the Sevier River.

Jensen said his irrigation time was restricted, and he stopped watering in mid-June. As bad as that may sound, Jensen said that farmers in northern Sanpete County probably had it worse because they don’t have as much water storage and they don’t use as much sprinkler irrigation.

“If we don’t get a lot of snow this winter, we’ll really be in a dire situation,” he said, “because the reservoirs are starting on empty.”

However, the early season snowpack looks good, he said. “And we need a good heavy base for the winter snow to pile up on.”

The Jensen’s will be hoping and praying for a heavy snowfall this winter. As will most water managers throughout the state. Without it, water restrictions will be likely be enforced next year. Not to mention the probability of more devastating wildfires.

Statewide, the 2018 water year was dismal and left the entire state in a moderate to exceptional drought category, according to the NRCS water report.

Utah received about half of its normal snowpack last winter, followed by four months of hot summer temperatures, with abundant forest fires and little rain.

Reservoirs have seen heavy use with little to no water left; across the state, reservoir storage is at 54 percent, compared to 70 percent a year ago.

Soil moisture is at 23 percent compared to 55 percent statewide last year.

Cumulative precipitation for the 2018 water year ranged from 76 percent of average in the Bear River Basin to 51 percent in Southeastern Utah, with the San Pitch River Basin reporting 60 percent and the Upper Sevier Basin coming in at 67 percent of average.

The Upper Sevier Basin is reported to be in better shape than the San Pitch. Reservoir storage is at 18 percent capacity, and the water availability index for Upper Sevier is 5 percent.

However, recent storms just glanced by the Upper Sevier Basin in November, leaving precipitation that month at just 83 percent of normal and bringing the total accumulation of water for 2019 to 136 percent of average, compared to 150 percent in the San Pitch River Basin.

Thanksgiving rains and snows gave the entire state a boost to 135 percent of average for this year. The Beaver and Lower Sevier watershed are off to a particularly good start, coming in at about 200 percent of average for this year.

Brosten cautioned that is too early in the season to know if this winter will translate to boom or bust for snow totals. He also mentioned that it will take above-average precipitation to start to replenish water storage levels.

[Read more…]

Trend toward lighter sentences affected Mellor outcome

Letter with petition reflects continued anger among some Fayette residents


By James Tilson




MANTI—Sanpete County attorneys felt they couldn’t get the sentence they really wanted in the Tracy Mellor public funds case because of recent changes in Utah sentencing guidelines.

Pointing to the passage of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) in Utah in 2015, County Attorney Kevin Daniels said, “It changed the criminal justice system entirely.”

While many of the changes have been positive, one impact he views as negative is cases  getting an “across-the-board reduction in recommendations.”

“The reduced sentences we are seeing are not the result of lenient judges, the reductions are a by-product of a change to the sentencing guidelines,” he said.

Daniels explained how he thought that reform in the criminal justice system often ran in cycles, calling it the “pendulum concept.” He said legislators will respond to calls for change in the criminal justice system by going from one extreme to the other.

“After the Reagan era, get-tough-on-crime changes resulted in much more severe punishments. Now the reforms are swinging to the other extreme of leniency,” he said.

While there has been a lot of opposition to people being incarcerated for long periods for drug possession, he said, all cases are getting much more lenient sentences, not just drug cases.

Mellor, the long-time Fayette town clerk and recorder, pleaded guilty to writing checks out of city funds to her husband’s business. Investigators said the thefts went back to at least 2009. She was charged with stealing $153,000. But she took other money that she couldn’t be charged with taking because the statute of limitations had run out on those thefts.

Knowing how sentencing recommendations were going lately, the County Attorney’s Office planned to ask for a one-year jail sentence. But when the pre-sentence report came from Utah Adult Probation and Parole (AP&P) with a recommendation of no jail time, Daniels said, “We were quite shocked.”

After seeing the low recommendation, Daniels and Assistant County Attorney Wes Mangum decided all they could realistically argue for was 60 days in jail. The court ultimately ordered 45 days.

Daniels said AP&P, using new sentencing guidelines, is routinely issuing lenient sentencing recommendations. He recalled the Mathew Malstrom case, in which an 18-year-old boy was convicted of stealing about $40,000 worth parts and weapons from Christensen Arms in Gunnison. The original recommendation was for only 45 days, with credit for time served. Daniels’s office argued for a lengthier jail term, and the court eventually sentenced Malstrom to serve 120 days in jail.

Daniels also recalled a sex crime in which the recommendation was for only 30 days in jail. Daniels argued that particular defendant needed to be sentenced to prison. In that particular case, the judge followed Daniels’ recommendation and not the presentence report.

Changes are taking place all over Utah, not just in Sanpete County. Daniels cited a Kane County case from 2017 in which a city treasurer was charged with embezzling public funds. In that case, which was tried by the Utah Attorney General’s Office, the defendant pleaded guilty to one count of a third-degree felony, not three felonies like Mellor pleaded to. The defendant wound up with a 30-day jail sentence.

Daniels said he knew that there was strong sentiment in the community regarding Mellor’s sentence, everything from people who wanted her to walk free to people who “wanted to give her the death penalty.” Daniels said he personally felt at least a year in jail was warranted.

Since her sentencing, the community atmosphere has not simmered down. An anonymous letter has been circulating around Fayette this week, and apparently was mailed to each of the 70 households in town, accusing various government officers and entities of “not caring about Fayette.”

The letter asks recipients, “Do you care about Fayette?” and invites them to make their opinions known to Judge Wallace Lee, Mellor’s sentencing judge.

Investigations of Fayette town government are not finished. Last week, the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office sent the results of its investigation into further misuse of public funds by people other than Mellor to the county attorney’s office for review.

Daniels said the investigation is “still in the process” and he expected to have a decision on whether to file charges within a couple of weeks.