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SALT LAKE CITY — Noise, light and vibrations are just a few reasons not to live near military training grounds. Housing development, however, is getting closer and closer to Camp Williams.
In fact, some developers in the area use the camp as a selling feature for prospective homeowners looking for a view with open space, according to Maj. Gen. Jeff Burton of the Utah National Guard.
But it isn't just the prospect of being nuisance neighbors that has Guard officials worried.
"The problem is there are homes right up on the border of Camp Williams already over in the Rose Canyon area, which has got a lot of combustible material, (like) oak brush," Burton said at a Veterans and Military Affairs Commission meeting Thursday. "When fires do start … now that there are houses so much closer, the response time for firefighters is much reduced before those fires get to housing areas."
Burton added that base personnel take precautions to prevent human-caused wildfires in areas where they train. But most ignitions come from lightning and can occur anywhere at any time. Efforts to mitigate potential fuel sources are "behind the power curve" of rapid development, he said.
As a last resort, moving the 100-year-old camp to make room for development would cost in excess of $1 billion, according to Burton.
"I would like to say we wouldn't have to do that for another hundred years, but it's on the table," he said.
A recent joint land-use study examined ways for the base to continue its operations unimpeded while finding compatible uses for lands in surrounding communities, including Herriman, Bluffdale, Lehi, Eagle Mountain and Saratoga Springs.
The problem is there are homes right up on the border of Camp Williams already over in the Rose Canyon area, which has got a lot of combustible material … When fires do start … now that there are houses so much closer, the response time for firefighters is much reduced before those fires get to housing areas.
–Maj. Gen. Jeff Burton, Utah National Guard
Guard officials have also applied for grants under the Army Compatible Use Buffer program, or ACUB, to purchase lands around the base or to fund open space conservation initiatives headed by cities or landowners.
Herriman assistant city manager Gordon Haight said the city is working to implement principles of the land-use study as quickly as possible to keep up with the demand for development.
"Right now, the economy is really hot. We're seeing prerecession growth out here with building going that quickly," Haight said. "It's been very timely for us to get that study done and work with the base on those things."
If ACUB funding was procured, Haight says the city would use the funds to maintain a buffer between the base and houses that are built. The city would also develop plans to enhance outdoor recreation opportunities for the public in areas where homes could not be built.
Landowners can also retain their lands for other uses that maintain open space, but "right now, we've had huge interest by the property owners," he said.
"The property owners have all been extremely cooperative. The developers have been extremely cooperative," he added. "So at this point, even if we don't get the funding, we will still address these issues and solve them through other means."
ACUB funds will be awarded in September if the base is found eligible. Funds will be awarded annually, and property purchases would be in portions, according to Haight.
Haight said there's currently a resident-driven initiative to increase city taxes in order to purchase parts of the mountain adjacent to the city. If the initiative were to pass, it would be used in conjunction with ACUB funds, he said.