ST. GEORGE – In a move to make the area around Springdale more aesthetically pleasing to the millions of visitors who pass through on their way into Zion National Park, the city is moving to bury its power lines, and the county is providing funding to help do it.
The Washington County Commission unanimously approved $1.5 million going to Springdale Tuesday for the cost of eliminating its overhead power lines and power poles.
“Obviously Springdale is one of our little gems,” Roxie Sherwin, the county director of tourism, said during Tuesday’s commission meeting. “I’ve been in support of this all along. When you pay attention to the power poles in Springdale, it’s amazing how distracting they are.”
Springdale had begun to bury its power lines along state Route 9 through the town in the mid-1970s, Springdale Mayor Stan Smith said. However, the power company the town was working with at the time was eventually bought out by Rocky Mountain Power, he said, and that process stopped around the Driftwood Lodge.
From there on it’s power poles and power lines. The town now has the opportunity to remove the poles and bury the power thanks to the upcoming second phase of the SR-9 reconstruction project being undertaken by the Utah Department of Transportation.
The SR-9 reconstruction project started in January from Rockville to Springdale, with the first phase of the project ending in April. The second phase, which will see construction within Springdale and up to the gate of Zion National Park, is slated to begin in October and last through April 2018.
During this second phase, the sidewalks will be widened and bike lanes will be added as the road is reconstructed. As the existing power poles along the roadway will be in the way of widening the sidewalks – and standing in the middle of the sidewalks if left in place – it has provided an opportunity for their removal.
“That was a good thing,” Smith said.
Still, removing the power poles and putting the power underground along SR-9, as well as the rest of town, will run $1.5 million.
“So I’m here to ask for that 1.5 (million) to put that power underground throughout the rest of the town,” Smith said.
Washington County recently granted a $1 million grant to Springdale to help with the construction of a potential parking structure that is estimated to cost $4.3 million. Another part of that funding is coming from a 10-year loan.
Officials hope the parking structure will aid with parking issues had in the town due to the increase in visitors to Zion National Park. Parking along parts of SR-9, also known as the Zion Park Boulevard within the town, will be eliminated to make way for bicycle lanes, which also add to the need for somewhere new to park.
“I think there a number of cities that would like to have their power underground,” county clerk/auditor Kim Hafen said to the commission. “For me, what I think we’re trying to do here is to enhance the experience of 4.5 million visitors who are going through Springdale to attend Zion National Park”
Zion was the fifth most-visited national park in 2016 and is also one of the top contributors to the county economy.
Commissioner Dean Cox, who described himself as generally a hard sell for such an expenditure, agreed with Hafen.
“I can see how it would really change the visual aesthetics,” Cox said.
Money put forth by the county will come from revenue generated by the county’s transient room tax, Commissioner Victor Iverson said. He also saw moving the power lines underground as a good use of the money.
The transient room tax is a tax tagged on to rooms in hotels, motels, inns and similar tourist accomidations that goes to the county.
“The beauty of not having those power lines in there adds to the aesthetics of Springdale,” Smith said, adding that when the power line removal and roadwork is complete, that part of the town is “going to be absolutely gorgeous.”
Springdale is also committed to $3.5 million for improvements related to the part of the SR-9 project running through the town, Smith said, adding that the overall road project is around $13 million.
The road project is being done to bascially produce a new roadway as the original has worn down and is in need of restoration.
Ed. note: it was originally reported that the SR-9 project was being done to increase its capacity due to increaing traffic to Zion National Park and back. This was incorrect and the has been corrected in the article above.
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