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Heber City Council seeks more collaboration with Wasatch County over open space

A view of the Heber City government building
Grace Doerfler / KPCW
A view of the Heber City government building

The Heber City Council wants to collaborate with the Wasatch County Council over conservation easements in the North Fields.

As local governments await the Utah Department of Transportation’s preferred route for the western bypass road, the city council decided against a resolution that would have urged the county to wait to put a conservation easement on over 200 acres of agricultural land north of Heber.

Instead, Heber leaders say they want to work with the county to both secure easements and avoid obstructing possible routes.

Heber City Councilmember Mike Johnston spoke up Tuesday, Feb 20, saying he didn’t think the resolution was needed.

“I don’t think we need to ask the county to defer moving forward with conservation easements,” he said.

He said UDOT has delayed its route announcement in any case, so he sees a chance to collaborate with other local governments.

“I see this as an opportunity for us,” he said. “Now that UDOT’s told us, what, end of 2024 now, that’s when they’re going to announce that, I would like to spend the next eight or nine months [with the] county, Midway, Heber City working hand in hand with UDOT to explain our concerns and find good solutions that work for us.”

Johnston said he’d like to see all the land along the bypass protected with easements, but he didn’t want the open lands agreements to become literal roadblocks to UDOT.

City engineer Russ Funk suggested maybe the bypass could be excluded as a permitted use in any open lands agreements.

“That would just make that such a very clear and easy thing to go forward,” he said. “It does preserve the open lands moving along, but it excludes that from being something that they couldn’t do.”

Mayor Heidi Franco worried federal funding for the easement might be affected with that kind of exclusion.

But the room came to a consensus that the resolution wasn’t the right move.

“This is exactly the type of thing that the lobbyist came and warned us about as something that UDOT could take as, ‘Well, Heber City said to wait, so they must not want the bypass,’” Councilmember Aaron Cheatwood said.

Instead, City Manager Matt Brower urged the council to ensure an interlocal meeting happens where all the local leaders discuss the bypass together. Leaders pledged last month to schedule a meeting, but they haven’t followed through yet.

“This is an urgent issue,” he said. “This is the No. 1 priority, I think, for our community and the Wasatch County community.”

The city council decided Brower would contact UDOT and schedule a meeting to discuss their concerns. The council will craft a plan for how to move bypass discussions forward at its work meeting March 5.