Top 10 stories in Sanpete County in the last 12 months
It’s never easy to select the Top 10 stories of the year, and there’s always some disagreement among the staff on the final picks. We try to balance “interest,” things that capture public emotion, with “importance,” things that will change our area over the long term. Here’s what we came out with for 2021.
By the Sanpete Messenger staff
No. 1: Growth
The numbers don’t appear to have changed much. Based on the 2020 U.S. Census, the population of Sanpete was 28,437, up just 615 people from 2010.
Then there’s observation. We keep meeting people who are moving off the Wasatch Front to live in the country. Land that was covered with brush a few years ago now has streets, curb and gutter, and homes, homes, homes.
In Ephraim, a new strip mall is going in, and oh, look, there’s another multi-story combination business and residential building.
Both the empirical and subjective signs of growth seemed to particularly increase in 2021.
For starters, it seems pretty clear the 2020 Census undercounted the county. The count was in progress when, because of COVID-19, Snow College sent students home to complete classes online. So they weren’t counted, even though by census definition, they are considered to be part of Ephraim’s population when they are living in Ephraim.
While the official 2020 count was 28,437, the census’s own estimate for 2019 was over 30,000. The estimate for 2021 was over 31,000.
Mayor John Scott of Ephraim cited studies projecting that Ephraim, which had 4,500 residents in 2000, could mushroom to 18,000 by 2030.
The development that attracted the most attention was Ephraim Crossing, a mixed residential-business-shopping complex southwest of McDonalds bordering U.S. 89. The city council has approved most of the project plans.
When ground was broken in March for the first phase of 44 homes, the development was proposed for about 90 acres. In August, the developer, Camino Verde of Las Vegas, bought additional land to increase the size to 128 acres.
The developers said the first business building would be 32,000 square feet and would house a technology business plus a co-working facility where multiple companies would share office space.
For at least the last 20 years, Ephraim has charged impact fees when a new house or business building has been built. The fees help pay for water, sewer, parks and other services the new development will require.
At the beginning of 2021, the fees were about $6,000. In May, the city council raised them to $14,400.
“Fees must increase for the city to meet future needs and accommodate infrastructure demands that new construction requires, such as wastewater services, culinary water, roads, parks and recreation and emergency services,” said Shaun Kjar, Ephraim city manager.
Meanwhile, city council meeting after city council meeting was peppered with requests for zoning changes. There was a proposal to rezone farmland west of the projected Ephraim Crossing development from agriculture to residential-agriculture, which would increase the number of homes allowed per acre.
There was a proposal to rezone property at 150 E. 700 North from low-density residential to commercial.
And there was a proposal to change the zoning in the city-owned Ephraim Business Park to allow buildings that contained a mix of commercial and residential uses. That was the change that brought the mixed residential and business structure mentioned above.
There was industrial growth, too. In February, the Gunnison City Council approved a conditional use permit for a company called Future Comp. The company said it planned to build a plant in the city industrial park that could potentially employ up to 200 workers.
By June, the skeleton of the 100,000 square foot plant was up. At year-end, the building was enclosed, with construction still going on inside, and there was a sign out front advertising for workers making high-end bicycle parts.
In 2021, four Sanpete County municipalities launched projects to expand their culinary water supply, a signal they see growth around the corner.
Ephraim will receive $1.2 million from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) passed early in the Biden administration. The city announced it would combine the money with other grants to do a whopping $12 million in culinary water improvements. The work could double the city’s water supply in five years.
The Mt. Pleasant City Council approved a $5.2 million culinary water project including a new well, piping and water treatment plant. The city talked about purchasing a second new well from a private owner.
Moroni, which had water purity problems in 2020, approved a $3.54 million water project, including a new well, piping, water tank and overflow reservoir near the water tank.
To partially fund the work, the town instituted its first impact fee of $3,244 per new water connection and raised water rates to $11.50 per person.
After engineers informed Centerfield it was reaching its limit in the amount of water it could draw from a spring and well based on the water rights it owned, the town came up with a plan to spend close to $1 million to buy rights for an additional 135 acre feet of water, which translates to 326,000 additional gallons.
Toward year-end, the city council approved a bond to pay off a $314,000 loan from the Utah Community Impact Board (CIB) for the purchase. The CIB also gave the town an exceptionally large $607,000 grant.
Yes, we can drill wells and run pipes from mountain springs into our water systems. But where’s the limit? How much water is really available in Sanpete County?
In July, during a meeting where the commission took up requests for 23 home lots, Scott Bartholomew sounded the alarm.
Under the current county ordinance, a home in the unincorporated area must have rights to a minimum of 1 acre foot of water. In the past, there may have been an acre-foot of water available for every 1 acre-foot water right. Today, water rights yield half or less of historic amounts.
“We’re getting into a situation right now where we’re approving water that doesn’t exist,” Bartholomew said. “…One well doesn’t affect you. Two wells do not affect you, but all of a sudden, you’ve got 50 wells in an area. It starts to affect your springs (some of which feed culinary systems)…And there’s a point where you need to say, ‘Enough.’”
In September, a group of residents from Indianola appeared before the commission to complain that the developer of a 78-lot subdivision near the Indianola Fire Station had received state approval to put in a two-acre recreational lake.
The developer of another proposed 90-acre development in the same general area was also proposing a lake, although none of his development plans had been approved.
“So where are we getting water for a lake?” Bartholomew asked. “Thank you, thank you,” spokeswoman Bambi Elliott of Indianola said, as other residents applauded.
The residents’ concern was that all the development could draw down the aquifers and begin to dry up their wells, Elliott said.
The residents also said violations of development ordinance and outright land fraud had been going on in the Indianola area for years. Bartholomew acknowledged the problems but said the county finally had a zoning enforcement officer who is doing something about it.
As the year ended, a group of residents in Mt. Pleasant essentially cried “not in my backyard” when a developer proposed a 76-lot subdivision. The city planning commission and city council felt the project would benefit the city because the developer would build a road that would improve traffic flow in an adjacent development.
But one resident said the subdivision would destroy the rural nature of the community. Another said he didn’t want Utah to be “Californicated.”
No. 2: COVID and vaccines
Although many people were ready to say “good riddance” to COVID at the end of 2020, the virus was just getting started as reflected in the fact that the Messenger ran 100 stories on the topic in 2021.
Just when life was returning to normal in mid-2021, a more contagious Delta variant swept into the county, causing the case counts to skyrocket; and then again, a newer, even more transmissible virus called Omicron has just now appeared on the scene, with expectations that infections will continue to climb.
At the end of 2020, Sanpete County reported 2,005 confirmed cases and nine deaths from COVID. But at the end of 2021, there had been 5,921 cases of COVID and 49 total deaths. That means that 40 Sanpete County residents died from the disease in 2021. Sanpete’s death rate from COVID has doubled year over year.
When vaccines became available for everyone in late winter, Sanpete County residents were ready to take their shots and start mingling with their fellow human beings.
Early on, there were reports of vaccine shortages and delays for residents who wanted their shots. But eventually, the distribution kinks were smoothed out, and everyone who wanted a shot got one.
The Central Utah Public Health Department (CUPHD) opened up vaccination clinics at the Manti and Mt. Pleasant fire stations, and hundreds of people lined up in their vehicles to receive their free shots.
The 2021 Utah Legislature passed a law ending state and local mask mandates in April. In August, after some controversy about masking rules and vaccine mandates, both the North and South Sanpete School Districts released their 2021 COVID-19 protocols for the coming school year.
Both districts followed guidelines from the Utah Office of Education. In accordance with Utah House Bill 1007, face masks were not mandatory in schools, including on buses.
Vaccination was not a requirement to enroll in school or join an extracurricular activity.
In addition, COVID-19 testing was not required in most circumstances, including extracurricular activities. According to state law, testing of members of an athletic team or other student group will only be required if a school has more than 30 positive COVID-19 cases.
As of September, COVID cases in the county were continuing to rise. Sanpete County recorded 3,986 cases for the year up to that point, with 28 deaths, nearly double the cases and deaths in Sevier County.
The Delta variant began to hit Sanpete County hard by the time school settled in. The Utah Department of Health reported that Sanpete’s COVID numbers were “very high” and a lot worse than the state as a whole.
In mid-September, both the North and South Sanpete School Districts reported a total of 42 confirmed COVID cases among all public schools in the county.
One key to the high transmission rate was Sanpete’s low vaccination rate of just 30 percent, compared to 50 percent in the nation as a whole.
Brenda Bartholomew, a nurse and administrator at Gunnison Valley Hospital, said that many “very sick” patients were being transferred to hospitals on the Wasatch Front—if a bed was available. “We are getting tired here. We’re as busy as we were at the peak in November or December .”
By November, the virus seemed to be slowing down in the county. On Nov. 18, all the schools reported a total of just 17 cases. The transmission rate in Sanpete was still regarded as very high, but stable.
The FDA recently authorized vaccines for children ages 5-18 in and booster shots for adults. Vaccine clinics were held at local schools.
Just in time for Christmas, a new variant, Omicron, has spread to Utah. Omicron is easier to catch, but generally not severe in people who are fully vaccinated, according to news reports. Health experts at the University of Utah predict Omicron will be the dominant strain of the coronavirus in Utah by early January and will spread throughout the month.
No. 3: Drought
Drought isn’t a new story, but it’s always a big story in Sanpete County. And in 2021, the drought was worse than usual.
In February, we reported Sanpete County—along with 90 percent of the entire state of Utah—was experiencing extreme drought conditions.
Jordan Clayton, hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), reported that soil moisture in February in the San Pitch River Basin was at 37 percent of average, compared to 55 percent at the same time in 2020.
In March, Mayor Lori Nay of Gunnison issued a mayor’s proclamation saying because of the pending summer drought, the city could levy harsher penalties than usual on people who use more than their share or waste secondary-irrigation water.
In July, the Spring City Council held a special meeting to hear from Neil Sorensen, a farmer and former council member. Sorensen said vegetation in the mountains was so dry that combined with dead timber on the ground, there was a serious danger of fire. A fire could undoubtedly be extinguished, he said. But it could be followed by a flood that could seriously damage the city.
He also talked about his own farm. He told the council from January to July, his farm received only 2 inches of rain. The dry conditions opened the door to grasshoppers.
“My farm is decimated,” he said. “… I will give a tour to anyone who wants to see how bad it’s gotten this year.”
Because of dry conditions, fireworks were banned on state lands. Planners of the July 24 rubber ducky race on 12-Mile Creek in Mayfield cancelled plans to float the ducks down the creek. Due to the drought, they said, there would not be enough water in the creek.
In October, the Messenger and Gazette reported hopeful signs. Because of large and frequent storms during the month, precipitation in the San Pitch River Basin was 190 percent of normal.
According to the NRCS, soil saturation in the Sanpete Valley was much better than at the same time in 2020. Agriculture areas in the South Central District of Utah had soil moisture content of 32 percent, compared to 22 percent the previous year.
At a deeper level, reflecting the underlying problem of climate change, researchers are warning that the Mountain West could reach a point in 35 to 60 years when it could go through whole winters without snow.
Jordan Clayton, the NRCS hydrologist, said, “We are seeing a tendency for a later onset of snowpack and earlier melt of snowpack, particularly in the medium to lower elevations.”
“The water situation is dire,” said Matt Palmer, agricultural specialist for USU extension. “But we don’t know if this is just a cycle and we will bounce out of it, or if it will continue.”
The problem farmers have in northern Sanpete County is a lack of reservoirs, Palmer said. “Our reservoir is the snow on the mountain. So when we don’t have a good snowpack and it comes down too fast or soaks into the soil too quickly, that’s when our problems come.”
No. 4: Future of Manti Temple, new Ephraim Temple
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints kept Sanpete County jumping in 2021. In March, it announced the Manti Temple would be renovated later in 2021, and following the renovation, the church would end the live endowment ceremony and remove its historic wall murals.
Not everyone was happy. “I’ve talked to a few folks in the valley and most of them are kind of surprised,” said lifelong Manti resident Doug Barton. “We’re all good, we’re all obedient. … But I really thought it would stay live — I really did.”
The news that the historic murals by noted pioneer artist Minerva Teichert would be removed sparked a protest in Provo. A group gathered for “Take Up Thy Bread and Walk,” an event meant as a response to the plans to remove the artwork.
A petition circulated on the Internet and social media, which attracted significant support from people who wanted to see the temple artwork saved.
In early May, the church announced that while it was sticking with the elimination of the live ceremonies, it would preserve the Manti Temple art. All historic paintings would remain in the temple.
Simultaneously, the church announced that a new temple would be built 7 miles away in Ephraim, near Snow College. In a video, President Russell M. Nelson said the plan would allow the church to preserve the historic artwork and craftsmanship in the Manti Temple while increasing the church’s capacity to serve members in the area.
“We have been giving much prayerful thought to the hardy pioneers who labored and sacrificed to make it possible for faithful members of the church to receive their blessings in the Manti Utah Temple,” President Nelson said.
Local church members were amazed by the news that Sanpete would boast two temples. Although other larger cities have more than one temple, Sanpete County, with a population of 31,000, is the smallest geographic area to have two temples.
Rumors flew as to where the new temple would be. In late October, Ephraim City and the church announced the location would be at 400 East south of 200 North, next to a Snow College student stake center. The temple will take a couple of years to complete.
No. 5: Municipal elections
About 80 candidates filed for offices in the 13 municipalities in Sanpete County, one of the largest candidate fields in memory and a demonstration that interest in public service is still alive in the county.
Primary elections held Aug. 10 narrowed the fields for mayor and/or council seats in Manti, Mt. Pleasant, Spring City and Mayfield. In other cities, there were only two candidates for open seats, or candidates ran unopposed.
In the final election, Nov. 2, the biggest changeovers occurred in Centerfield and Manti.
In Centerfield, Travis Leatherwood, an LDS seminary teacher who had served on the city council several years earlier but hadn’t been involved in city government recently, won a big victory over incumbent Tom Sorensen, who was seeking his fourth term. Leatherwood got 221 votes, or 63 percent, while Sorensen came out with 129 or 36 percent.
In Manti, Alfred “Chuck” Bigelow, a former warden at the Central Utah Correctional Facility, won a close race against Darren Dyreng, manager of the Ephraim branch of Cache Valley Bank, who was serving his third term on the council. Bigelow got 607 votes, or 52.8 percent, while Dyreng got 541 votes, or 47.1 percent.
In Wales, Byron Davis, who had served three previous terms as mayor from 2002 to 2014, narrowly defeated incumbent Nathan L. Mitchell.
In four other towns with contested races for mayor, the incumbent mayor was reelected, or a current council member stepped up to mayor.
In Fairview, Councilman Brad Welch, who was first elected to the city council in 2005, will be the new mayor.
In Moroni, Mayor Paul Bailey, a sheriff’s deputy, won a second term over Jacob Michie.
In Mt. Pleasant, incumbent mayor Michael Olsen, who works for Sanpete Valley Hospital, defeated Councilman Russell “Bull” Keisel.
In Spring City, Councilman Chris Anderson, an attorney who was elected to the council in 2017, defeated Jane Hawks.
No elections were held in Fountain Green, Sterling and Fayette, because all offices were uncontested. Mayor Mark Coombs will continue as mayor in Fountain Green. In Sterling, Mayor Randall Cox stepped down after several terms. Keenan Pearson, who has not served in town government before, was unopposed to replace him.
In Fayette, Mayor Jed Bartholomew did not seek reelection, but no one filed for mayor. That means the town council will appoint Bartholomew’s successor after the first of next year.
Council races were a mixed bag. Incumbents took all the council seats in Ephraim, Fairview and Gunnison. A mix of incumbents and newcomers were elected to councils in Moroni, Manti, Centerfield and Mayfield. In Spring City and Mt. Pleasant, all of the council winners were newcomers.
No. 6: Forest plan
It’s been more than five years since the U.S. Forest Service published a notice in the Messenger of its intent to rewrite the Manti-La Sal Forest Plan, replacing a plan that has been in place for 37 years.
Ordinarily, drafting new forest plans doesn’t five years. But the Forest Service says the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented public meetings and workshops from being held, delayed everything.
In February, the Forest Service announced a draft of the plan was complete. At that point, it launched a period called “pre-scoping,” during which public comments would start to be received. The agency also said from that point until issuance of a final draft plan, no changes would be made to the plan text.
In August, the Forest Service announced the opening of official “scoping,” which, by law, is a comment period running for 60 days.
The “big takeaway” for the public, Sanpete District Ranger Johnny Collin said at the time, is scoping is “their opportunity to have an impact on the management of the forest for the next generation. We know the forest is super important to everybody in these communities, and we just encourage them to look at it, and if they have comments, to make those comments.”
The Manti-La Sal National Forest is 1.4 million acres. The north section is in Juab, Utah, Sanpete and Sevier. A non-contiguous south section is in southeastern Utah in Grand and San Juan counties.
The draft plan is 160 pages, with 500 pages of appendices. Before the draft was prepared, at least a half dozen scientific studies were conducted to gather information.
The document has chapters on watershed and aquatic resources, air quality, soil resources, geological and paleontological resources, climate adaptation and vegetation communities.
Other chapters cover wildlife, cultural and heritage resources, areas of tribal interest, recreation and access, scenery, minerals and energy resources, fire and fuels management, livestock grazing and timber resources.
The Manti-La Sal Forest website at http://www.fs.usda.gov/mantilasal has an area devoted to “Forest Plan Revision.” A link on the Manti-La Sal homepage takes you to the plan, appendices, special studies and a “story map.”
The story map summarizes the plan in the form of photos, text and videos, and is probably the best available overview.
The forest plan area of the Forest Service website also includes a function to “submit a comment.” The plan area also tells you how to email a comment or mail one in hard copy.
About the time the draft plan came out and pre-scoping was announced, Mike Larson, chairman of the Sanpete Conservation District, asked the Sanpete County Commission to sign a letter advocating some changes to the plan. The commission agreed to sign the letter.
Larson said the draft didn’t give sufficient attention to grazing rights. A statement in the old plan about the importance of grazing to local economies had been pulled out.
He also quoted the draft plan as saying grazers can utilize the range to stubble height. Yet, Larson said, the Society for Range Management came out with a position paper in the 1990s saying grazing standards should not be locked into a long-term plan.
The society, Larson said, takes the position that standards “should be used in annual operating instructions for each allotment, and…should be used as indicators for cattle and sheep movement, in that year, on the ground.”
In March, Kyle Beagley, former district ranger for the Sanpete District, who was later put in charge of the forest plan, briefed county commissioners on the draft document. He said the topics he heard most about from the public were range, wilderness and access.
Compared to the previous plans, the draft puts more emphasis on Native American cultural sites in the forest. More than 4,800 such sites have been identified. Most are in the part of the forest that is in Grand and San Juan counties. But 23 percent of the sites are in the Price, Ferron and Sanpete districts.
The plan also addresses whether any parts of the forest should be designated as wilderness. It gives high ratings for wilderness suitability to several locations in Grand and San Juan counties. But no locations in the Price, Ferron or Sanpete districts receive high recommendations.
The plan calls for continued clearing of Engelmann Spruce trees, both standing and fallen, that were killed by the spruce beetle in the 1990s and early 2000s. The goal is to reduce fuel for potential forest fires.
At one point in 2021, Mayor John Scott of Ephraim expressed concern about how much wear and tear trucks bringing logs out of the forest would do to the new Ephraim Canyon Road, but added that road wear was a problem the Forest Service, county and city have to accept to accomplish the much more important task of fuels reduction.
By law, from the start of scoping, the Forest Service has two years to complete the plan. After the 60-day scoping comment period ends, the agency will write a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) designed to present alternatives for managing the forest. One of the alternatives will be the plan itself, which will be incorporated whole cloth in the EIS.
After the EIS is out, there will be another 90-day comment period. Next is release of the final EIS, followed by a short and final comment period. When that comment period ends and the very last tweaks are made to the document, the supervisor of the Manti-La Sal forest will sign a Record of Decision putting the plan into effect.
Although adoption of a forest plan is a fairly momentous benchmark, it doesn’t change the longstanding policy of multiple use of forest land, said Collin, the current Sanpete District ranger.
“The new forest plan will be in line with a lot of the use we’re seeing on the national forest now and update some of the science and some of the standards to things that are more appropriate for now,” he said. “But as a whole, in terms of our everyday management, I don’t think you’re going to see huge changes between plans.”
No. 7: New sheriff
In early 2020, Gov. Spencer Cox selected Sanpete County Sheriff Brian Nielson, a Republican, as executive director of the Utah Department of Corrections, leaving a vacancy here in the county.
The county commission appointed Capt. Gary Larsen as interim sheriff until, according to law, a special Sanpete County Republican caucus could be convened to nominate a replacement for Nielson. Larsen, who had been with the Sheriff’s Office since 1990, served for about a month.
Three candidates filed with the Republican Party to replace Nielson. Rick Rasmussen was a current sheriff’s deputy who was previously a lieutenant at the Central Utah Correctional Facility (CUCF) supervising other corrections officers. He had also been assistant chief of police at Snow College.
Keith Jensen, a former mayor of Wales, was a patrol sergeant in the Sheriff’s Office.
Jared Buchanan was a Sanpete County native with previous experience as a corrections officer at CUCF and as a sergeant in the Sanpete County Sheriff’s Office. At the time of the caucus, he was working for the Sandy City Police Department, where he had been a patrol officer, member of the SWAT team and a field officer conducting background checks on applicants for police officer.
Buchanan is the son of the late Wally Buchanan, who served as sheriff in the mid 1990s.
The Sanpete Republican delegates selected Buchanan. He came away with 55.1 percent of the votes. Keith Jensen came in second with 24.8 percent of the vote, while Rick Rasmussen got 21.1 percent.
“We feel confident the sheriff’s office will be in good hands under Sheriff Buchanan,” said Steve Clark, chairman of the Sanpete County Republican Party. “We were fortunate to have a field of exceptionally qualified applicants. I would have been comfortable with any one of them. The consensus of the party was clear. Jared is exceptionally qualified on the basis of education, experience and temperament.”
After Buchanan was elected, the Sanpete County Commission ratified the results and appointed him the new county sheriff on Thursday, Feb. 4.
“I’m excited,” Buchanan told the Messenger after his swearing-in. “We’ve got a great group of officers and a great staff. I’ve worked with a lot of them that are already here. I’m excited to come in.”
Buchanan said he had several long-term goals for the sheriff’s office, not the least of which is working on recruiting young deputies as older members retire. He also wants to see the department bring on a K-9 unit to support officers during traffic stops and searches.
No. 8: New city halls
During 2021, Centerfield and Fountain Green dedicated new city halls.
Centerfield officially opened its city hall building April 16, marking the first time the city had had its own building since November 2019 when it moved out of the former city hall, which was subsequently demolished.
For more than a year, the city had been headquartered and council meetings held in the Gunnison Irrigation Co. building on Main Street.
“The building is yours to be used by the residents, and we turn it over to you,” Mayor Tom Sorensen said as council members, volunteers and staff gathered behind a red ribbon tied in front of the building.
In his speech, Sorensen told the story of the effort, dating back to 2013, to secure funding for the 2,400-square-foot building.
The Utah Community Impact Board (CIB) had denied funding twice despite the “crumbling” state of the old building. Ultimately, the CIB gave the city a $250,000 grant along with a $250,000 loan to be repaid over 20 years at 2.5 percent interest.
“One of the greatest things we did to keep the costs down was that we wrote our grants,” Sorensen said. “By [we], I mean Lacey (Belnap). She is really the one to thank. She saved the residents a lot of money.” (Belnap is the city recorder.)
The Centerfield City Council held their first council meeting in the new city hall on April 21.
Fountain Green opened its new city hall on May 11. “The City Hall is a building that the citizens of Fountain Green can be proud of and was built smartly and fiscally responsibly,” Mayor Mark Coombs said.
The new building cost about $3.4 million, and Coombs said the city had been able to finish more of the building than originally planned.
The building has two main rooms on the top floor, which are accessible both from State Street and rear entrances. City offices are at the front of the building and are connected with a large council room that will double as a banquet room with a fully functional kitchen.
One of the most exciting features, Mayor Coombs said, is the library, located in a quiet basement area and filled with books for all ages.
In leaving the former city hall, a one-time school building, “a few good things that will be missed are good meetings and some heated meetings, dances, school programs and even dog clinics.
“But moving forward, this building will have memories for new citizens and old as we use it and make it a part of our history,” Coombs said.
Besides the business portion, the building has a new fire station. Local firefighters went from having no room to having extra room.
Mayor Coombs praised Councilman Willard Wood who, he said, had the vision and knowledge to make it all happen.
No. 9: Manti Sports Park
About 100 people gathered Oct. 20 to cut a ribbon at the Manti Sports Park, the culmination of a seven-year effort.
Prior to development of the park, youngsters were playing ball in an undeveloped area of the cemetery.
“We knew we had to do something, so we got the funding, and now, thankfully, as a community, this has happened,” Mayor Korry Soper said as people attending the dedication looked across the 40-acre site containing five lighted baseball/softball fields, a concession building, two parking lots and generous open space at the sides and rear of the fields.
The original vision was four ball diamonds like Ephraim has, but as a citizen advisory group toured other facilities throughout the state, they liked the five-plex design, Kent Barton, the city manager, said.
To assemble the site, the city needed to buy land from five owners. The target parcels bordered U.S. 89 north of 800 North and extended from the highway, the equivalent of about two blocks to the west.
It was a minor miracle, the mayor and city manager said, that all five owners accepted the city’s offers.
About the time the city was looking for land, people working on the project started figuring out how to finance the park. The estimated price tag was $4 million. The biggest funding source was the Utah Community Impact Board (CIB), which provided $3 million, half grant and half loan. But the city itself had saved up money. And the city got a $100,000 donation from the George S. and Dolores Dore Eccles Foundation, along with other significant private donations.
A groundbreaking was held in April 2017. Construction took more than two years. A few games were played in the park during 2019, but the park went mostly unused in 2020 because of the pandemic. But in 2021, the park was fully used, including for tournaments attracting out-of-town visitors.
“One of the main reasons we did this was to help bring people to town to help with economic development,” Barton said.
A few weeks after the dedication, the city sponsored a Halloween Trunk or Treat that attracted more than 1,000 local residents. Barton said that it was the most people to ever attend an event at the park.
No. 10: Man charged with attempted murder of officers
A case that started with a Mt. Pleasant man allegedly violating a protective order escalated into the man careening down a hilly dirt road at 70 miles per hour in the direction of a sheriff’s car and group of officers.
The case started on June 12 when a woman complained to Mt. Pleasant police that Kevin Otteson, 59, of Mt. Pleasant was sending her threatening text messages and telephoning her in violation of the protective order.
At one point, Otteson told the woman, “I am going out, but I will take a couple of cops with me.”
Mt. Pleasant Police Chief Jim Wilburg tracked Otteson to Summer Grass Road, a hilly dirt road north of S.R. 116, the highway running from Mt. Pleasant to Moroni. The chief got the man on the phone.
According to a probable-cause statement filed in the case, Otteson threatened to kill himself, told the police chief he had explosives in his pickup that could blow up Mt. Pleasant, and said he had an automatic rifle and intended to use it.
Twelve officers from Mt. Pleasant, Ephraim, Fairview, Spring City and Moroni, along with deputies and senior officers from the Sheriff’s Office, took up posts on different parts of the road.
They held a meeting and, in the words of the probable-cause statement, “made a group decision to hold position and continue to attempt to talk Kevin down from the situation.”
Capt. Gary Larsen of the Sheriff’s Office tried to negotiate with Otteson, agreeing to requests ranging from cigarettes to asking Otteson’s daughter to bring him a cell phone charging cord.
Suddenly, Otteson made a run down the hill at 70 mph toward a sheriff’s car parked to barricade the road. His truck stopped 12 inches from the car and officers standing nearby. Officers could have and probably had justification to fire at him, but they didn’t.
He retreated back up the road, but made another high-speed run down the hill, taking out 50 feet of fence. Again, officers held their fire.
Otteson got away in the dark. Officers found his truck up the hill, stuck in a ravine. The next morning, the officers pinged his cell phone and figured out he was at a family member’s house in Mt. Pleasant.
Chief Wilburg and another officer got permission to enter the house, where they found Otteson lying on a bedroom floor. The officer pointed his gun at him and ordered, “Show me your hands.” Otteson refused.
The officer put his gun away and used a maneuver called a twist lock to disable Otteson. The man cried, “Shoot me, you fat…pig.” Other officers moved in and handcuffed him.
Officers learned that during the night, Otteson had again called the woman who made the initial complaint and threatened to kill her 7-year-old granddaughter and to do it slowly.
In a follow-up editorial, the Messenger said, “It’s a minor miracle that through the whole incident, running for hours, neither Otteson nor any of the officers was hurt. The incident reflects remarkable restraint, professionalism and respect for life on the part of our Sanpete County police officers.”
Marcy Curtis, Lloyd Call, Suzanne Dean and Robert Green contributed to the compilation of the top 10 stories.