CENTERFIELD— Centerfield has had a building moratorium for almost six months because it doesn’t have rights to enough water to supply any more homes than it is serving presently.
In Utah, most moratoriums expire after six months. The Centerfield moratorium is scheduled to lift on June 5, but the city isn’t ready for it to happen.
“We have good grounds to leave it in place,” Mayor Travis Leather wood said at city council meeting on Wednesday, May 18.
During the meeting Leatherwood said the council had not decided whether to extend the current moratorium beyond June 5 or approve a new moratorium.
The city has an agreement to purchase additional water rights. But it can’t finalize the purchase until the rights are approved by the Utah Division of Water Rights. The city’s application has been on the table since January.
A group of water companies in Millard County that frequently challenges water change applications is objecting to Centerfield’s application.
A hearing on the objection is scheduled for June 2, said Garrick Willden, of Jones & Demille Engineering and the consulting engineer on the effort to secure the rights. But that’s just the hearing. “The state has not given a timeframe for them to make a decision,” Willden said.
“We have done everything we possibly can as a city. We are now just waiting on the state,” the mayor said. “… We are waiting on the state, nobody is waiting on us.”
The city is confident it will prevail in its case before the Division of Water Rights. But even after the division issues its ruling, there could be further delays, Councilman Jaden Sorenson said at the city council meeting.
He said Willdan had told him it can take one to three months to be able to use the water. “It will take that long to transfer the rights into the city’s name,” Sorenson said. “Then we still need to find out if our transfer line can carry the added water.”
The water rights the city seeks to purchase would give the city additional water from a spring and well near Mayfield—sources it is already tapping. But engineers don’t know how much water the present 5-mile transmission line that brings the water into the city can carry. Some sections of the pipe may need to be replaced to carry the added water.
Even though the council members are not ready for the building moratorium to be lifted, Weston Barney, developer of a subdivision in Centerfield is.
“If you vote for a building moratorium to continue in Centerfield, you are blatantly going against state law,” Barney told the council.
While Barney said he understands the water issue within the city, he does not agree the building moratorium should continue. He told the council he needs to sell lots in the subdivision because of all the money he has tied up in the development.
He said he had done his research and it is against state law for a building moratorium to go over six month, unless you are building a highway, “which is not the case.”
Kevin Daniels, attorney representing the city, said Barney is wrong in his legal interpretation.
“He is incorrect that it goes against state law, and I wouldn’t expect anything different considering he is not a lawyer” Daniels said. “State law is silent on the matter. Usually, if it is the Legislature’s intent to prohibit something, they expressly prohibit it.”
Daniels said Centerfield has been and is currently working hard to resolve the water shortage issues. They are trying to obtain more water rights and are undertaking a water study.
“I’d feel differently about the moratorium if they (the city) were just trying to prevent development,” Daniels said. “They are trying to make sure the inevitable development is responsible and does not hurt current residents.”
Barney said that his solution is to lift the moratorium, let him sell his lots and have the city issue building permits on a case-by-case basis.
“Let me sell my lots, let people start building and then we will give them the water rights when they are ready,” he said. “By the time these houses get built, the water will be ready.”
The city has denied several building permits over the last six months and lifting the moratorium would only give false hope to those who have been denied, Leatherwood said.
“I don’t want to mislead anyone,” he said. Sorenson asked Barney what difference it makes if the moratorium is lifted in June or three months down the road. He told him he can still sell the lots, people would just need to wait to get their building permit.
“Advertising,” he said. “You can’t really sale a lot to build on if they can’t get a building permit.”
Sorenson told Barney that if the council extended the current moratorium, or approved a new one, as soon as the water issues are resolved, it would lift the moratorium. A new moratorium would not have to stay in place the full six months.
Before going into a closed session, Leatherwood reminded the council and those present, there was not going to be a vote on the moratorium that evening, just discussion.