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Life returning one year after Dollar Ridge Fire

Blue and yellow wildflowers are blooming around the bases of charred trees within the Dollar Ridge Fire burn area.

The same area was aflame last year after the fire broke out on July 1 eight miles southwest of Duchesne. The fire burned for more than a month, spreading to more than 68,000 acres and destroying more than 70 homes, according to information from the Garfield County Sheriff’s Office.

Monday, more than 50 people returned to the burn area at the Wildcat Wildlife Management Area near Heber City to see how wildlife and vegetation is rebounding one year later.

“It’s night and day difference,” said Miles Hanberg, the northeast region supervisor for the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

Hanberg visited the area to confirm that the area was regrowing as expected.

While grasses and flowers had returned, other vegetation, like trees and sagebrush, are expected to take longer. Hanberg said sagebrush can take 10 to 15 years to regrow at higher elevations, and 30 to 40 years at lower levels.

Hanberg said the vegetation looked better than he expected it to and was diverse.

“Up here, fire is part of the natural ecology,” Hanberg said.

The fire burned through most vegetation quickly enough to not have made the ground too hot, which meant that seed beds were preserved. About 13,000 acres of burn area have been seeded. The rest has regrown naturally.

Hanberg said most wildlife didn’t leave the area during the fire, and those that did immediately returned.

Views of the fire area included aspens with gradient burns along their trunks and dark, charred mountainsides speckled with patches of fresh, green growth.

“It’s still just amazing for me to see the growth coming up in these areas,” said Derrick Ewell, a district wildlife biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Ewell said the area’s seed bed is coming back more diverse, and noticed aspen trees that were already bursting from the soil. He anticipates that the area will see more deer and elk in the next 10 years.

“I see it getting better and better in the future,” Ewell said.

But while things were looking positive for the area’s vegetation, those who live in the area still have concerns about potential floods that could come this summer.

The area saw two floods last year.

“It really devastated a lot of the homes that were left,” said Duchesne County Commissioner Greg Todd.

Todd said he hopes that the wet spring and slow snow melt means locals won’t see a repeat of last year.

“We had a perfect year,” Todd said.

He still has concerns about potential debris flows, and said there are homes that are still not occupied due to flooding.

Todd said he had concerns about the state of the soil in the area, but was optimistic about seeing growth return.

“We’ve been tickled to see what’s up there,” Todd said.


State-and-regional
AP
AP-NORC Poll: Americans rarely seek guidance from clergy

DETROIT — Timothy Buchanan says he never consults clergy about important decisions, but it’s not for lack of faith: He regularly attends a nondenominational Christian church near his home.

Buchanan, 41, is not alone. A large majority of Americans make important decisions without calling on religious leaders for advice, according to a new survey released Monday by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research . The poll finds three-quarters of American adults rarely or never consult a clergy member or religious leader, while only about a quarter do so at least some of the time.

“The church we go to is quite large, and we’re relatively new there,” said Buchanan, who lives with his wife in Bolivia, North Carolina. “We really haven’t established a relationship with a minister there. Going to larger churches, it’s nearly impossible now to get a relationship with a clergyman or woman.”

The lack of personal connection with ministers even includes people who identify with a specific religious faith, though those who are most engaged with their faith are more likely to have relationships with clergy.

The poll finds about a third of Americans saying they attend church or other religious services at least twice a month; roughly a quarter never go. Among religious adults who attend services at least twice a month, about half say they sometimes or often consult with a religious leader. That compares with 16% of religious adults who attend services less often.

And while the poll finds a majority of Americans still identify with a specific faith, about half overall say they want religious leaders to have little influence in their lives.

For his part, Buchanan feels a connection to faith — he grew up in a small church and has an uncle who is a Baptist minister — but he’s still feeling his way around where he worships. Besides the size, he feels some of his own reticence to reach out to a pastor could be a reflection of the technology-focused times.

“People don’t know how to have personal communications with other folks when you need to ask questions or need to get help,” he said. “For instance, we’ve got some issues with our health insurance plan, so I spent an hour today Googling ... instead of just picking up the phone and calling somebody.”

Tim O’Malley, a theology professor at Notre Dame University, said he suspects that technological self-service is among the factors contributing to infrequent contact with clergy.

“In American life, there has ultimately been a broad rejection of ‘experts’ apart from the person searching for the answer on his or her own,” O’Malley said in an email. “Think about the use of Google. You can literally Google anything. Should I have children? What career should I have? When should I make a will? How do I deal with a difficult child?

“In this sense, there has been a democratization of information based on the seeking self,” he added. “You can find the information more easily through a search engine than finding a member of a clergy.”

There are some topics on which Americans are more likely to reach out to religious leaders, the poll finds. Nearly half say they’re at least moderately likely to consult with a clergy member or religious leader about volunteering or charitable giving. About 4 in 10 say they’re at least moderately likely to consult about marriage, divorce or relationships.

Jo King said she rarely consults with clergy members but would be moderately likely to talk to one of them about marriage, divorce or relationship issues. While she doesn’t feel the need to regularly meet one-on-one with priests, she regularly attends services and says religion has always been “very important to me.”

“I used to consult periodically with them ... when I was younger, but I rarely consult with anybody. I kind of live my life my way,” said King, 72, a Catholic from Canal Winchester, Ohio.

Experts say the clergy sex abuse crisis confronting the Roman Catholic Church also could be taking a toll on consultations between parishioners and priests. According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, about a quarter of U.S. Catholics said the crisis had led them to reduce their attendance at Mass and their donations to the church. Some bishops have acknowledged that many Catholics are distancing themselves from the church because of the furor.

Polling has shown a steep rise over several decades in the share of Americans identifying as unaffiliated with a religion. Gallup polls in 2018 showed 20% of Americans saying they have no religion, up from 2% in 1955.

At the same time, more Americans describe religion as unimportant in their lives, and church membership and service attendance have declined. Gallup polling shows about half of Americans said they attended religious services within the past week in the mid-1950s, while just about a third say they did now.

Weekly church attendance among Catholics specifically has been steadily declining, to roughly 40% from 75% in 1955, according to Gallup.

O’Malley, who also serves as director of education for Notre Dame’s McGrath Institute for Church Life, sees “a lack of trust in all sorts of institutions,” including houses of worship.

“Surely the church — the Catholic church in particular — has lost some moral authority in the last 25 years in the United States,” he said. “But it is joined by schools, newspapers, the media in general, etc.”


American-fork
featured
What happened to American Fork's old broadband system?

In June, American Fork announced its plans to build a $25 million broadband infrastructure throughout the developed areas of the city.

The announcement came with its own website, https://lighthubfiber.com/, in the interest of making the process transparent and keeping residents informed. There will also be three town hall meetings held throughout the summer for residents to attend and answer questions.

But many city residents are wondering how this will be different from the city’s first attempt at providing broadband to its residents.

In 2001, American Fork was looking to follow in the steps of Spanish Fork and become the main internet provider for the city. American Fork was looking at purchasing a broadband system from SwitchPoint, previously known as AirSwitch, and eventually approved a $6 million bond to purchase the system and make upgrades to it.

However, almost immediately after American Fork made the purchase, according to city officials, the Utah legislature passed a state law which, according to George Schade, American Fork Broadband director, made it so cities could only wholesale, not retail.

“The city thought that we could do a single ISP (internet service provider),” Schade said. “So our whole model had to change ... we had to bring on multiple ISP. And it ended up being a much bigger undertaking.”

In addition to struggling to split internet revenue with different ISP, Schade said the infrastructure required a lot more maintenance than the city had imagined, which prevented it from paying off the $6 million bond. The city tried to offset the costs by selling the residential system to American Fiber Inc., better known as AF Connect, and leasing some fiber lines the city put in place in partnership with a private company.

The city financed the deal with American Fiber, Inc., for $500,000, which would give American Fiber, Inc. ownership of the in-city fiber network, equipment, and receivables, according to city financial documents. American Fiber would pay monthly interest-only payments at 12%, with the expectation it would make the full payment in 2012. However, according to city administrator David Bunker, American Fiber only recently closed with a full complete purchase.

In 2013, the city again made a deal to help pay down the bond debt, to lease 12 strands of fiber to a company for $660,000. The company later leased another 12 strands of fiber for another $660,000 — but the debt remained.

In March 2013, according to city financial records available on the American Fork website, the city was able to “retire” the broadband bond. Bunker explained the city did this by borrowing from its own internal cash reserves. As it stands, the city is currently $2,627,526 in debt to itself.

It begs the question of why the city would seek a $25 million bond when it’s still almost $2.7 million in debt, but Bunker said the city hopes to use a portion of the revenues from the new infrastructure to continue to pay down the negative broadband fund balance.

“Over time, it will get taken care of, it’ll be reduced,” Bunker said. “It’s always a concern to borrow money, especially for our community where they’ve had this experience already in the past.”

According to current models and projections of the project, Bunker said, the bond would be able to self-fund in 10-20 years, as opposed to the full 30-year term.

Overall, both Bunker and Schade feel confident that building the new infrastructure will be worth the investment and will readily pay for itself. They also believe it shouldn’t be compared to what the city experienced 16 years ago.

“My personal opinion is that it’s apples and oranges as to what the city’s looking at now compared to what happened back then. The system we bought needed a ton of work, a ton of upgrades,” Schade said. “I’ve been in this industry a very long time, and in my mind, fiber is the way to provide the very best connectivity, the very best uptime, very few problems because of, if you build the network right, it’s cutting edge. It’s top of the line. Versus coming in and buying an old system.”

In the interest of transparency and keeping residents informed, American Fork is holding three town hall meetings throughout the summer, the first of which is Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at city hall. Bunker said the city also welcomes calls and emails from residents who want to share their concerns. The city council will officially consider the project on August 13, and bond approval likely won’t be considered until early winter. Both Bunker and Schade are hopeful it will be approved, and excited about the possibilities of the new network.

“It’s more than just internet ... it’s really connectivity,” Bunker said. “What we want to offer our community is that connectivity.”


Local
AP
Utah auto accidents fall but effect of DUI law still unclear

SALT LAKE CITY — Alcohol-related crashes decreased sharply in Utah after a new state law dropped the legal blood-alcohol limit from .08% to .05%, the lowest threshold in the nation, data show.

However, the Utah Highway Patrol said there is not enough information yet to say the decrease in crashes was a direct result of the new limit.

“I hope it is,” Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Nick Street said.

Street said he believes the new law is creating a “healthy fear” among people who are making plans not to drink and drive when they go out.

The figures show there were 236 alcohol-related crashes resulting in three fatalities during the first quarter of 2019, down from 416 crashes and 10 deaths during the same period in 2018, the Deseret News reported Saturday.

State troopers worked more than 170 extra DUI shifts over the holiday weekend and have reminded people to get a designated driver or taxi if they plan on drinking alcohol at an event.

Between Jan. 1 and March 31, troopers arrested 2,713 people on suspicion of DUI. They say 135 had blood-alcohol content between .05% and .079%. Street said the majority had measurements of more than .08%, the previous limit.

From May 24 through July 1, there were 11 people killed in 11 crashes.

In 2018, between May 25 and July 2, there were 30 crashes resulting in 34 deaths, according to statistics from the Utah Highway Patrol.

The time between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend is known in Utah as the 100 deadliest days of summer because fatal crashes nearly double on state roads, authorities say.