3 local mayors discuss past, present, future at Hurricane Chamber event

HURRICANE — Yesterday, today and tomorrow were the focal points of three mayors who spoke Tuesday at the Hurricane Valley Chamber of Commerce annual State of the Cities Luncheon in the clubhouse at Sand Hollow.

Business and community leaders gathered to eat lunch and hear comments from three different local mayors: Nanette Billings from Hurricane, Kelly Wilson from LaVerkin and Keen Ellsworth from Toquerville.

Cyprus Credit Union, soon to open its new branch in Hurricane, was the featured business at the event and Branch Manager Aaron Taylor gave some brief remarks as well.

Billings defends Constitution

Mayor Billings opened her speech with thank yous.

“We have a great council. I’m really grateful for the other people that are on the council,” she said. “Our job is to make sure that we are helping you and your businesses, and to promote good friendly business practices so you can thrive.”

Billings thanked the Hurricane City staff and then returned to a theme she spoke of frequently when she was campaigning for mayor.

Hurricane mayor Nanette Billings speaks at the State of the Cities Luncheon, Hurricane, Utah, April 21, 2022 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

She defeated former Hurricane City Councilman Kevin Tervort by less than 200 votes and was sworn in as Hurricane’s first female mayor on Jan. 4.

“And it’s important for us to recognize that document (the Constitution), where the people that you are having to govern, that they get their power from the governed,” Billings said. “Part of our responsibility is to listen to you and make sure that we’re doing what you want. And I feel like we have a good council that’s trying to do that.” 

Billings said that the council mostly works on zoning and land use and “…things that we have our own control within the city. So hopefully we can make it so it’s not so controlling that you’re feeling like you can’t do the things you want to do.”

“We want families to be able to thrive there, but not affect other people in a bad way,” she added.

Billings went on to talk about growth.

“We have 641 building permits that were issued last year in Hurricane City,” she said. “There’s 17,000 plotted lots. So we have a lot of area for development. And people have the right to develop their property, right?”

She said that the city council follows the guidelines of its Master Plan.

“I feel like the council at this point, if they are following that plan, that we pretty much approve what has been presented before us because people can develop their properties,” Billings said.

She noted that the word is out about Hurricane.

“We’re not such a hidden treasure anymore,” Billings said. “It’s like the gates have been opened and there’s a lot of land here.”

Wilson touts hot springs resort

Mayor Willson said that the long-awaited hot springs resort in LaVerkin is officially on track to begin construction. 

LaVerkin mayor Kelly Wilson speaks at the State of the Cities Luncheon, Hurricane, Utah, April 21, 2022 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

As reported here in St. George News, the LaVerkin hot springs are located just off state Route 9 through Hurricane at Enchanted Way. They were a popular recreational site for locals since the late 1800s.

The hot springs were privately owned until 2013, when the Washington County Water Conservancy became the sole owner.

Wilson remembered when he was growing up that the pool at the hot springs was a fun place to go.

“But since the water district took it over, they closed it down,” Wilson said. “And if you go down there you get arrested. And the fine is pretty healthy.”

Wilson described an application and bureaucratic process that has lasted over four years. Eventually, he said, a committee was formed that started exploring options.

The committee consulted with the developers of Iron Mountain Hot Springs Resort in Glenwood, Colorado, who then made a presentation to the water district.

“They decided that it was possible to pump the water out of the canyon to another site, to where they could develop the hot springs,” Wilson said.

There was opposition to the idea at various stages of conception.

“Even though they didn’t want it in their backyard, it was still a good thing for the community,” Wilson said. “And it will be. And we’re excited about that happening.”

Wison added that he hopes the LaVerkin hot springs resort will be under design in the next few months, with construction on it starting “fairly soon.”

Not the Toquerville of yesterday

When he wasn’t making fun of LaVerkin–“They’re just such an easy target,” he said–Mayor Ellsworth talked about his vision of the bedroom community of Toquerville.

Toquerville mayor Keen Ellsworth speaks at the State of the Cities luncheon, Hurricane, Utah, April 21, 2022 | Photo by E. George Goold, St. George News

He marveled at the number of building permits issued last year in Hurricane.

“That is just mind boggling,” he said. “In Toquerville we have a total right now, since 1858, of 720 rooftops. I just can’t fathom that. That’s incredible growth.” 

It’s a little different in Toquerville.

“There isn’t much growth taking place,” Ellsworth said. “And the way we do it is you’ve got two choices. One is to put your head in the sand and let it grow over the top of you, or to embrace it and find ways to manage it so it’s beneficial to everyone. We’ve chosen the latter course.”

He went on to add that there’s almost no commercial development in town with no retail offices.

“And if I can wave a magic wand, we’d keep it that way. We love our quiet bedroom area,” Ellsworth said. “However, that’s naive to think we could.”

Ellsworth noted the pending completion of the Interstate 15 bypass, which will bring opportunities for commerce.

“We invite it. We want commerce because it will relieve the tax burden on our citizens,” he said.

The bypass is scheduled by contract to be completed Dec. 15.

“I came across some documents recently that showed Toquerville first began discussions on the bypass in 1969,” Ellsworth said. “It’s taken that long. But we’re finally out there moving dirt.”

These projects and other future plans, Ellsworth said, reflect Toquerville’s new attitude.

“We’re open for business,” he said. “And it’s not the Toquerville of yesterday, much to the chagrin of many of us that are locals there, we’d like to see it stay the same. But we’re going to do our best to keep the old downtown quiet and simple like it’s always been.”

“But we’re also going to embrace the growth that is inevitably coming, we’re going to give that growth a place to be, and we’re going to make sure that it fits well and that it’s a win-win,” Ellsworth finished. 

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2022, all rights reserved.

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