ST. GEORGE — For the first time in years, voters in Utah's Dixie could have a real race on their hands for a seat on the three-member Washington County Commission.

A political newcomer, Democrat Lin Alder, who recently stepped down as executive director of Citizens for Dixie's Future, is challenging Republican incumbent Alan Gardner.

The nonprofit group is actively campaigning against the Lake Powell Pipeline and the Toquop coal-fired power plant in Nevada. Alder's public relation skills helped propel the fledgling citizen's group to the forefront in public conversations, with environmentalists and others who claim an interest in "smart growth" initiatives

"Voters are clearly calling for change," Alder says. "We now see the evidence daily. Whether it's Divine Strake, the Washington County Lands bill, Vision Dixie and the Toquop coal-fired power plant, local citizens have made it clear that some of our current elected officials are out of step with citizens' desire to protect the quality of life and natural resources that drive our economy in this beloved county."

Gardner and his fellow commissioners in November gave their tentative support to the 750-megawatt Toquop coal-fired power plant, planned for a site about 14 miles northwest of Mesquite, Nev. They reversed their position after public concerns were raised. Gardner pointed out that the commission stated earlier it would do so if there was sufficient proof that the power plant would harm the region's environment.

Gardner, who serves as the county's liaison to several federal agencies on public land issues, is a strong supporter of the public's right to use public lands and actively pushed to make the Vision Dixie process a reality.

"With only 16 percent of the county's land being privately held, public land issues are critical to Washington County," Gardner said, noting he also serves on the Utah Association of Counties Public Lands Committee.

Gardner also is chairman of the Public Lands Management subcommittee of the National Association of Counties (NACO) and is president of the Western Interstate Region, a bipartisan association of 15 Western states within NACO.

Alder, a freelance photographer and real estate developer, and Gardner also disagreed over the county's pursuit of the Washington County Growth and Conservation Act of 2006. The bill had the support of Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, and Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, who introduced it to Congress after several revisions.

That bill is expected to be reintroduced to Congress after "substantial" changes are made, Gardner said recently. Alder has campaigned against the bill, saying it inappropriately called for selling up to 25,000 acres of public land to the private sector.

Greg Aldred has also filed to run for the County Commission seat. Aldred, who ran as a Democrat two years ago in an unsuccessful campaign for a different county commission seat, is running as a Republican this time around.