This post addresses three topics from my interviews this month with the American Fork City Council: short-term concerns about the overabundance of water, long-term concerns about having enough water for current needs and to sustain growth, and the effort to bring fiber optic connectivity to the entire city, including homes and businesses the major telecom providers have declined to serve.
(Insert your own joke about [water-]soluble dietary fiber here. We’re not talking about that kind of fiber.)
Water, Water Everywhere!
I asked each member of the council what’s going on in the city just now, and they all mentioned water. The water is hard to miss, to be sure, especially if you’ve wandered down toward the harbor lately.
Less obvious, perhaps, were months and years of preparations to minimize flooding in a season such as this. Just down the road from the “Boat Harbor Closed” sign is a scene which makes me want to ask, “Why did the river cross the road?” (Turns out it was for the same reason the chicken did.)
There’s a dip in the road which turns out to be intentional, so the high water can wash over the road rather than washing it out. That’s one hint of what Councilman Rob Shelton told me: “The administration has done a phenomenal job in planning for [flooding].”
Multiple council members spoke appreciatively of work that stretched from the mouth of American Fork Canyon to Utah Lake: clearing the river channel of debris, checking culverts, and reinforcing banks. That work began in late winter, while City staff were still busy plowing snow, and extended through early spring.
Councilman Ryan Hunter praised the police and other City staff “who are driving around at 2:00 in the morning,” monitoring water levels and looking for flooding.
I heard more than once of some longer-term improvements at the mouth of American Fork Canyon, where we built a weir to facilitate removal of logs and debris before they wash further downstream and cause trouble. The City has lately acquired an additional excavator, and at least one is on station at the weir around the clock now, removing debris.
Councilman Hunter told me of a business that is newly arrived in American Fork, LiveView Technologies, which donated 3,000 sandbags and the use of trailer-mounted security cameras to monitor flooding.
To a person, the council expressed guarded optimism — optimism because the preparations were thorough and the weather has been cooperative so far, and guarded because it’s not even June yet.
Long-Term Water Concerns
Some years ago, when pressurized irrigation was finally in the works, the City told us that we had enough culinary water for present use and to accommodate future growth, plus an good supply of irrigation water. This is still a consensus among the council, with the provision that the City and its residents and institutions need to be wise about conserving irrigation water.
Councilman Clark Taylor praised (as others have before) the saving, through conservation, of 18 billion gallons of irrigation water in a single summer. He also mentioned the ongoing installation of meters on every user’s pressurized irrigation connection. That’s a relatively new mandate from the state — and an unfunded mandate at that. It’s about a $6 million project, but the City is funding it from federal COVID funds and state matching funds available to early adopters, not from City tax revenues or bonding.
Councilman Rob Shelton noted that dealing with water in the long term includes trying to figure out some complex questions involving state and federal governments, where there is no easy answer. For example, the City wants to reclaim water — treat it and reuse it for some purposes — but the state legislature wants to prevent that for reasons of its own.
More than one council member emphasized to me that water is a long-term concern, as it always has been and always will be. But the City (or the small-c city) is in good shape, far better than some other Utah cities, because of wise decisions made in the past, in some cases the distant past.
The City is moving ahead with its plans for a city-wide fiber optic system which will bring modern broadband connectivity to every neighborhood. Just barely pre-COVID, the City flirted with a different plan, which would have treated fiber optic broadband service as a public utility like water or electricity, where every household would be connected and pay a basic fee. The discussion then focused on a $9 or $10 monthly fee per household, with higher fees for more robust, optional service.
The current plan is different in important ways.
- It is a public-private partnership, where the City owns the infrastructure but a private, established Utah-based company, Strata Networks, handles implementation and operations. As before, the planned system will be open, meaning that multiple providers can operate in it and offer competitive services to residents and business.
- It is a subscriber model, where only those who want the service will have to pay for it. Fiber optic cable will run down every street in the city — importantly, to areas where residents and businesses can’t get broadband service from existing providers — and households and businesses can opt in or not. If they opt in at the beginning, there will be no charge to do the “drop” (the connection to a household or business). After the system is built out and running, charges will apply for new connections.
Each member of the council expressed support and enthusiasm for the project, though there are some concerns. On one hand, Councilman Shelton wants to avoid potential interlocal agreements (with other municipalities or other local entities). On the other hand, he praised a neighboring city which also uses Strata Networks: “I love how Lehi did it. They had a vision. They knew what they wanted. They went after it.”
Councilman Kevin Barnes said he’s glad we didn’t go with the earlier plan. Strata Networks is “a top-notch provider,” and he likes that participation “won’t be mandatory for everybody.”
Councilwoman Staci Carroll explained that she was on board with the utility concept, but the council “heard loud and clear” from some residents who objected to the everyone-pays approach, and the current plan makes more political sense.
Councilman Taylor said, “It’s critical. It’s not water, but it’s close.” He called the current approach “a solid plan” and cited large potential benefits to many residents, for work, family, and education.
The council has already funded the design portion of the project — $9 million from available funds, none of it borrowed. Still in the future are council votes to implement and fund the project. Meanwhile, residents can sign up in advance at the City website.
Councilmen Barnes, Taylor, and Shelton in particular expressed frustration with the Utah Taxpayers Association’s public opposition to the project, as well as a few city residents who are allied with the UTA. More than one council member pointed to a pattern in opposition rhetoric of what this writer will charitably call distortions and half-truths used to misinform and sway public opinion.
Councilman Shelton reported asking the Utah Taxpayers Association, “Why didn’t you attack Lehi too [when that city adopted a similar system]?” Their representative answered, “We didn’t know anything about it.”
Councilman Barnes recalled the same sort of opposition to a proposed road bond issue a decade ago, when the measure’s defeat at the polls led to the City paying substantially more for road repairs than it otherwise would have.
Councilman Taylor noted that another lesson the City learned in its previous effort and elsewhere is the need for “better communication sooner” with the residents. “We’re focusing on that,” he said.
Here’s a link to the next post:
And here are links to the other posts in this series:
- Growth and Its Challenges (including Development)
- Good Candidates and the Workload
- Miscellaneous Concerns, What They’re Proud Of, and Favorite Restaurants
- My Own Reflections
Thanks for reading!