Blanding City Council considers reopening the economy and improving intersection safety

In a meeting held April 14, the Blanding City Council discussed how community and city operations have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. They recognize the hit small business owners are taking because there are no tourists coming through town. 

Current city operations affected include the wellness center, the visitor’s center, and the city office. City Finance Director Kim Palmer said, “We’re helping people stay home. We take payments over the phone and in the drop box.”

City Manager Jeremy Redd reports the city is taking advantage of down time to clean, maintain, repair, and paint the wellness center. 

Homeowners taking on projects also take up city time with the various permits and required inspections.

City operations potentially affected include opening the pool, baseball and softball seasons, and the Fourth of July celebration. Redd reports once approval is given for larger group gatherings, they can fill the pool and train lifeguards.

Councilmembers discussed at length how the community and county respond to state directives and orders. KD Perkins, who serves on the San Juan Public Health Board, shared with councilmembers the careful deliberation with which the Public Health Department made decisions. 

Speaking of Kirk Benge, the Director of Public Health, she said, “Kirk is deeply passionate about this community and has a family that is just as affected by this. He agonizes over every decision.

“He looked at both sides, researched the impact, and waited until there were confirmed cases in San Juan County. He understands the economic health is just as vital as the physical health of the county.”

Councilmembers discussed what businesses could open up first and how to do it safely. They also wondered if the city should set the example by opening up first. 

Councilmember Logan Shumway said, “Let’s not do anything drastic, but let’s be anxious to open things up. Hopefully, at the next meeting, we’re looking for a date to open up.” 

The Blanding City Council also talked at length about options to improve the safety of the intersection at Center Street and US-191. 

A study was performed by Hales Engineering on behalf of the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) at the request of Blanding City.

Many members of the city were hoping for a four-way traffic signal; however, the intersection does not meet the requirements for a traffic signal. 

The study evaluated what other options the city has for improving safety and visibility of the main highway that runs through the center of town. 

The biggest change proposed is changing the striping from a four-lane highway to a three-lane highway. 

Reducing lanes from four to three would reduce the number of traffic accidents. Statistically, changing from a four-lane to a three-lane highway would decrease accidents from 19 to 47 percent. 

Signage would also be upgraded and the shoulder would be widened from six to 11 feet.   

“At the traffic volumes that Blanding has, three lanes are just as effective getting traffic through town. Three lanes will calm traffic in the middle of town,” said Jared Beard, Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) District Engineer. 

“I like it for the safety. The three lanes is the safer option all the way around and it gives you a more small town feel,” he said.

Councilmembers expressed interest in the idea of increasing safety by decreasing the number of traffic lanes, but agreed to solicit opinions from constituents before moving forward. 

In other business, City Manager Jeremy Redd reported on recent county issues that would affect Blanding City. The County Commission was looking to renegotiate interlocal agreements with the three incorporated cities in the county. 

Redd reports Blanding City has an interlocal agreement with the county that will continue for eight years. He said, “They have a lot of financial issues at the county level. They’re looking for ways to cut their budgets, but it doesn’t make sense to give [the interlocal agreements] up.”

Mayor Joe B. Lyman reported writing a couple of letters addressing the interlocal agreements with San Juan County. He wrote that cancelling an interlocal agreement would expand the budgets of both the cities and the county. He said, “Everybody loses. It’s a no-brainer if you understand why they exist.”

Redd reports once the county understood, they will keep the agreements, but were still looking to renegotiate. 

City Engineer Terry Ekker reports runoff is already coming down, with 40 percent of the snowpack melted. Reservoirs are nearly full and Recapture is expected to fill, although nowhere near the magnitude that it did last year when water spilled over for two months. 

The irrigation season is starting, so citizens should expect to see water on fields soon. 

Police Chief J.J. Bradford updated councilmembers on law enforcement activity in March. He reported more cases and an uptick in domestic assaults with the onset of the coronavirus crisis, though those cases have now tapered off. 

The department is doing their best to practice social distancing, but still has to interact with the public. Bradford reported concern with an increase in illegal motorcycle and ATV use. Speeding, lack of helmet use, and driving without a license are the main violations.

Councilmember KD Perkins complimented Chief Bradford on his department’s prompt response to illegal ATVs. She said, “I’m grateful you’re protecting the youth of this town.”

The council approved a contract for the stormwater project. Five contractors submitted bids. Engineering firm Hansen, Allen and Luce recommended Jackson Excavation for the project. 

Jackson Excavation was the low bid and had strong references for other projects completed in the area. Jackson’s base bid of $1,399,133 will also allow the city to reduce the loan amount.  

The council adopted a green water year. A model developed for the city predicted 1,129 acre feet of run off water. With the amount of storage the city already has, combined with the forecasted runoff and assumed water use, the 2020 Water Year Forecast is set to green, indicating the most favorable water conditions. 

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