Indianola residents wake up to recreational lake being excavated

By Emily Olsen, April 20, 2022, Sanpete Messenger
Sanpete County, Utah

INDIANOLA — The owner of the Blackhawk Mountain Estates subdivision north of the Indianola Fire State has begun digging a 2-acre surface lake, which can be seen from U.S. 89.

According to local residents, heavy earth-moving equipment appeared about two weeks ago on property owned by Jamison Smith of St. George, whose father got approval for the subdivision there in the 1980s.

The Utah Division of Water Rights is conducting an investigation into allegations Smith is creating an illegal dam for the lake, which he intends to fill with well water, say sources familiar with the matter.

Although Smith claims to have water rights associated with the subdivision, Smith has not been able to show proof of water rights to build the lake, said Kevin Daniels, Sanpete County attorney. “They have showed a water purchase contract, but that is not the same thing” (as certification of water rights approved by the state).

A group of Indianola residents expressed their concerned about plans for the lake, as well as development, roads, and zoning enforcement at the September 2021 county commission meeting.

The Sanpete County Zoning Administration Office doesn’t want to see the lake built.

“We don’t want to see water pumped out of the ground” for a lake, said Tim Wilson, zoning enforcement officer. “We won’t let it happen.”

In response to concerns expressed by the Zoning Administration Office, Smith has hired Epic Engineering of West Valley City to research all the current statutes and other requirements needed for the proposed lake, which would be designed for swimming and other recreational activities.

Smith said he has worked previously with Jim Riley at the Utah Division of Water Rights to determine the number of acre-feet of water needed for the lake. He estimates he needs 5 acre feet, or the amount of water required to irrigate 1.25 acres.

“I don’t wish to impact the area unfairly whatsoever,” he said. “Our lot owners deserve what any other lot owner deserves in the area, in fairness. A few added amenities would be great for a community and very common in most any new project.”

Smith said, however, that if the lake is not feasible, he is willing to pursue an irrigation pond or a trail feature. “We absolutely desire … to again get updated on clarity on any and all aspects requiring anything additionally from the county or otherwise.”

Smith also owns the undeveloped Clearwater Estates Subdivision just south of the Fire Station and also intends to build a 12-acre water ski lake there.

While Daniels said the county has not seen proof of water rights, Smith said the Division of Water Rights had approved two change applications for the lake.

In addition, Smith said he received approval for the lake in Blackhawk Mountain Estates a few years ago in the form of an email from James Erickson, the former Sanpete County zoning administrator, who now serves on the county planning and zoning commission.

James Erickson denies that he ever authorized the lake.

“I never game Jamison Smith permission to build, construct, develop, or improve anything on his parcels in the north end of the county. In fact, I spent some time trying to build a case against his questionable practices regarding splitting and selling parcels without completing the subdivision process. I resigned before finding enough evidence to cite Jamison on his dealings.”

Smith said he has spent millions of dollars on Blackhawk Mountain Estates based on this understanding from Erickson.

“Myself, my father, my attorney, my project manager engineer and Jim Riley all had multiple conversations … to ensure we were doing everything required by the state and county,” Smith said. “Occasionally misunderstandings can and do happen in the real world of developing. Misunderstandings don’t mean intent to disregard anything.”

Smith continues that he “would potentially face enormous damages” if the lake or other aspects of the development are not realized.

But neighbors are concerned about how the lake will affect their water supply.

“Are they [Blackhawk Mountain Estates] moving forward without permits? That is the big question everybody wants to know,” said Vivian Kunz of Hideaway Valley, a realtor and candidate for the Sanpete County Commission.

In recent months, some residents of Hideaway Valley have been experiencing less water flow from their wells, and they believe that, in addition to the extreme drought conditions, activity at Blackhawk Mountain Estates, and other subdivisions around them owned by Jamison Smith, is causing the problem.

“Wells are going dry, and it costs $20-30,000 to redrill deeper,” said a Hideaway Valley Resident who requested anonymity for fear of retribution from Smith.

Smith denies that he has been combative with residents. He also contests the notion that work at the subdivision is impacting nearby residents, especially since his water system will not go online until homes are built.

Plat A of Blackhawk Mountain Estates, a 78-lot subdivision, was approved by the Sanpete Planning and Zoning Commission and County Commission in the mid-1980s. The subdivision was approved for 1-acre vacation homes used part of the year only.

Notably, the zoning for part-year vacation homes was approved, even though the vacation residential category had been eliminated a few years earlier in 1981.

“We can’t figure out how the subdivision was approved,” Wilson said.

Smith has started working with the Planning and Zoning Commission to upgrade the zoning to full-time residential lots, but doing so requires that lots have access to water, sewer and power, as well as road access, said Wilson.

“If he was doing it properly, that would be a different story,” Wilson said.

Smith disagrees. “It is my understanding that septic tank permits occur individually in conjunction with building permits” that individual residents would obtain in order to build on the lots.

On unincorporated county land, residents may install a septic tank when they build a home. But under Central Utah Public Health Department rules, a septic tank may not be built within one acre of another septic tank.

That means that if someone were to build a home with a septic tank on a 1-acre lot in Blackhawk Mountain Estates, it may disqualify the neighboring 1-acre lots from being developed, Wilson explained.

Nonetheless, Smith advertises on his website, BlackhawkMountainEstates.com, that in addition to selling the lots, he will build home that buyers select from different floor plans.

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