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Landowner at Morgan County river site takes gripes to health officials | News, Sports, Jobs

Hen Tag 02 scaled 1

Tim Vandenack, Standard-Examiner

Kent Singleton stands at the new fence blocking off the traditional takeout section for rafters along the Hen-Tag section of the Weber River in Taggart on Jan. 21, 2022. The fence, he says, is meant to keep people off what he says is his property and stems from liability concerns. The fence was later removed by Morgan County after it was determined to have been built illegally on public land.

TAGGART — Since mid-2019, Kent Singleton has owned land that includes a popular takeout point that thousands of rafters, tubers and kayakers use to exit the Weber River on hot summer days.

But so far, he’s been stymied in his efforts to manage and make any money off the popular spot.

That’s not for lack of trying, but Singleton’s interactions with government officials and employees have largely left him feeling frustrated and disillusioned.

Singleton recently tried to get a Morgan County Sheriff’s deputy to enforce his “no trespassing” signs at the takeout, but instead Singleton’s wife received a trespassing citation for attempting to change batteries on cameras posted on their gate across the river.

In May 2019, Singleton — a real estate broker who lives in Midvale — purchased 6 acres in Taggart that include this singular people magnet.

Early on, he had dreams of enhancing the area with restrooms, a double-decker bus fashioned into a food truck and even a bridge crossing the river to the larger chunk of his property on the south side.

On summer days, an estimated 3,000 to 6,000 rafters who launch near Henefer in Summit County float the 6- to 7-mile stretch of “Hen-Tag” to climb out at this particular point.

Many of them pay to use a rafting company such as Destination Sports to book their adventure, but some simply buy some equipment and figure it out on their own.

So far, Singleton’s ideas for improving his property remain shelved as he has locked horns with government officials up and down the line. This past May, a Morgan County public works crew tore down a fence Singleton had built to block the exit point after a survey revealed it had been erected outside his property boundaries.

Difficult land

Mike Newton, who chairs the Morgan County Commission, described the challenges involved with developing any part of Singleton’s land, which he said “crosses the river a tiny bit, off the freeway by the off ramp. The rest is across the river, and on the backside of it is railroad property.”

“For all intents and purposes, it’s kind of an island, it doesn’t have physical access from a county road,” Newton said.

The land — severed when the river got rerouted for construction of Interstate 84 in the 1950s — is zoned for multiple use on 160-acre plots.

“It’s ranch ground,” Newton said. “To do anything with the property other than agricultural use, it would have to be rezoned.”

Although Newton urged Singleton to pursue a rezone, Singleton has yet to file any paperwork to begin that process.

And for Singleton, that effort could prove to be time-consuming and costly. Newton noted that part of the land lies in a flood plain, part heads straight up an unbuildable mountain, and it lies within the vicinity of two large gas lines that stretch from Wyoming to the Wasatch Front, along with a high-tension power line that runs through the area.

“It’s a difficult piece of property,” Newton said.

Rather than filing rezone paperwork with the county, Singleton has taken his fight elsewhere, sprinkling public record requests along the way.

“He’s contacted every state agency he can think of, from the health department to the governor’s office to every surrounding county, the state Department of Natural Resources, the Division of Wildlife resources — you name it, I’ve received calls from all of them,” Newton said.

But those actions left Singleton and his remaining allies with deepening skepticism about the workings of government.

Singleton previously sought help from the state private property ombudsman, resulting in formation of the Hen-Tag Working Group that included various government representatives. By January 2022, that group had disbanded due to meetings being unproductive, according to a memo from Morgan County Attorney Garrett Smith.

As outdoor recreation ramped up this summer, Singleton targeted the Weber-Morgan Health Department for answers, aid and action.

In late July, Singleton asked Weber-Morgan to shut down the takeout spot until “solutions are provided to the public.” His concerns included allegations of trash, intoxication, drug use, public urination, defecation and portable toilet problems.

Who’s in charge?

This past Monday, Singleton presented his perspective to the Weber-Morgan Health Board in hopes of getting the public health agency to intervene on his behalf.

Singleton told board members that after years of filing formal complaints, he realized that health department management and staff “have no intentions to conduct any study or investigation about the thousands of people coming from Summit County via the Weber River and exiting the river on my private property in Taggart.”

Jeffry Glum, a former compliance officer for Ogden City, also spoke on Singleton’s behalf as part owner of the Taggart property.

“Is your mass gathering statute adequate? Six thousand people floating the river — what’s the impact on it?” Glum asked the board, expressing frustration over what he also viewed as their lack of willingness to investigate and “think outside the box.”

Brian Cowan, Weber-Morgan’s executive director, said the health department is legislatively tasked with oversight of mass gatherings, but activity at the takeout doesn’t meet that definition because no single entity is in charge.

Cowan compared the influx of visitors to what occurs at Causey and Pineview reservoirs on summer weekends.

“We have a lot of recreation area in Utah that’s public land,” Cowan said, “and when we look at those activities, it generally falls on the individual to be responsible for themselves to pack it in and pack it out.”

Issues raised by the Taggart takeout involve multiple layers of government authority and responsibility, Cowan added.

“It’s our duty to understand what falls under (Weber-Morgan’s) rule and how we respond to that,” Cowan said, noting that public health emergencies obviously remain in their purview.

“We’ve looked at data and practice,” Cowan said, noting that Weber Basin Water and the state Division of Water Quality routinely take samples in the area. And Weber-Morgan staff has done the same at times.

“They really don’t show a degradation or increase in coliforms (bacteria),” Cowan said. “So we don’t have a public health emergency.”

Recreate responsibly

In spite of Singleton’s wishes, robust recreational use of what he calls his “driveway” continues.

And Morgan County provides some services in support of those activities even though Newton said the county receives very little revenue from all the visitors. Most of that stays behind in Summit County.

Morgan County currently supplies and services two portable toilets and three jumbo trash cans for the area. And Newton said they’ve also taken steps to transfer ownership of the UDOT-owned road and land immediately north of the takeout.

“The county spent about $10,000 reshouldering and adding some space along the sides of the road there,” Newton said, to allow for parking that would still allow access for ambulances and emergency vehicles.

“Right now it’s county-managed property, not yet county-owned,” Newton said.

Newton acknowledged that concerns about trash and sanitation are legitimate, also urging people to take personal responsibility for their trash and to use the outhouses rather than relieving themselves in bushes or the river.

“That certainly will go a long way to make sure the area will remain accessible to the public,” Newton said, adding that “Morgan County has no problem with Singleton using his property, but he has to go through the correct process to do that, as does every landowner in the county.”

Cathy McKitrick is a freelance journalist in Northern Utah.


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