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LDS church letter about Heber Valley temple provokes conflicting responses

Guests turn the dirt at the Heber Valley temple groundbreaking Oct. 8, 2022.
Intellectual Reserve, Inc.
Guests turn the dirt at the Heber Valley temple groundbreaking Oct. 8, 2022.

Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints received a letter from local church leaders addressing concerns about the temple planned for Heber Valley.

A letter from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints about the planned temple sparked a flurry of responses from Wasatch County residents.

Published this week, the letter offered responses to common concerns about the temple’s construction.

But Heber City resident Bruce Van Dusen said the letter isn’t a true snapshot of how conversations about the temple have played out.

“The letter sort of intones that there has been a lot of outreach on the part of the church to work with and deal with the community and their concerns,” he said. “There has been one meeting.”

He said he’s frustrated the LDS church has largely communicated through lawyers, without soliciting much community feedback, and that the letter tries to obscure some of the concerns residents have raised.

“I’m thrilled for the church to build a temple,” Van Dusen said. “I understand how important that is. But I also feel like they have a responsibility... You lead by example, and you work with your neighbors.”

The environmental impact of the temple construction – particularly on groundwater and dark skies – is top of mind for critics.

But according to Wasatch County Manager Dustin Grabau, the letter accurately reflects the church’s work with the county to plan the temple’s construction. He said the county is comfortable with the studies about managing groundwater, dark skies, and traffic.

The letter says between 600 and 800 gallons of groundwater per minute will be pumped out during construction. That works out to between 860,000 and 1.2 million gallons per day; Van Dusen said he thought the letter was phrased to conceal how much water will be diverted.

Grabau said that large number is because the temple is one big structure, compared to residential developments. The pumping will not affect the county’s supply of drinking water, nor will it increase flood risk.

“Water flows very quickly, and the capacity of that canal is actually surprisingly large,” he said.

Dark skies have been a sensitive topic since the temple plans were announced, with dark skies advocates arguing that uplighting should be prohibited. However, Grabau said the lighting code is among the best in the nation for preserving dark skies.

“The way in which we’ve regulated that uplighting, I think, makes our code… very competitive across the entire nation,” he said. “I think this Heber Valley temple will be among the most dark-sky-compliant temples in the world, and I think that’s something that the community could be proud of.”

The letter cited concerns the church was trying to influence the county; Grabau denied the church had put any pressure on county officials to approve the temple plans.

“That’s categorically false,” he said. “At no point have I felt like they were trying to exert any kind of pressure on me or other staff members. To the contrary, we have gone out of our way to make sure that we’re trying to handle this project as objectively as possible.”

He said the county has treated the church just like it would any other applicant.

Additional opportunities for the public to weigh in on the temple plans will likely come soon. The county is planning a special meeting at the senior center in mid- to late October to give the public a more accessible way to offer feedback. Another public hearing is likely in early November. That means final decisions about the temple plans could be made before the end of the year.

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