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Shaky economy may help stabilize some Utah cities

Published: Monday, Dec. 1 2008 12:08 a.m. MST

The unstable economy that is slowing development in southwestern Utah may end up saving cities, towns and residents money, according to a Utah Geological Survey official.

UGS senior scientist Bill Lund wants to take advantage of a "pause" in growth in the normally booming St. George/Hurricane area by making sure government planners, geologists and engineers are aware of the geologic hazards and adverse construction conditions in their respective municipalities.

The UGS recently completed a report that identifies hazards that could cause problems for existing and future development in southwestern Utah. The report, in CD format, is being distributed to city and county officials in the 366-square-mile study area.

"There's a definite pause down here now," said Lund, who is based in Cedar City. "We're hoping by the time (the economy) turns around, we will have had a chance to present this information to the various communities and they'll be in a position to use it when the growth horses start stampeding again."

Lund wants to help communities limit damage and cost by being aware of areas at risk for flooding, landslides or other geologic hazards. The 2005 floods of the Virgin and Santa Clara rivers resulted in more than $180 million in damage to public and private property.

"We're hoping (the report) will give planners and land-use regulators a tool to help them identify potential problems," he said. "We're also hoping it will give engineers and geologists doing the geotech work a heads up on what's out there and what needs to be covered."

Other hazards covered by the report include surface faulting, earthquake ground shaking, liquefaction and rock fall.

Many areas in southwestern Utah are having trouble with expansive soil and rock, Lund said. Several buildings and other structures have experienced cracked foundations, as well as other architectural and landscape damage, from shrinking or swelling soil and rock, he said.

The UGS report includes 14 maps of the area, along with details about the types of hazards found in the St. George area. It also contains a geographic information system component that allows computer users to highlight an area on the map and find out what geologic hazards or adverse construction conditions are associated with that piece of property.

"The geology and hazards won't change," Lund said, "but where people want to live and build stuff certainly will."

The report was about a decade in the making. Attempts to secure state and federal funding failed, so it has been a pro bono project of the UGS, he said.

"We took it straight out of our own hides to do it," Lund said. "It took us a decade to get this done because we were working on other projects."

The UGS originally requested $160,000 for the study, though the estimated final price tag was much higher, he said.

The report is being made available free to municipal officials in the study area. Others can purchase the CD for $24.95 at the UGS offices in Salt Lake City, 1594 W. North Temple.

The study is being used as a model for similar work in Logan, Lund said. The UGS also has been contracted to study geologic hazards at Zion National Park, which attracts nearly 3 million visitors per year.


E-mail: jpage@desnews.com

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