Reflecting on 9/11
Missing the united U.S.A.
Writers Block by Nelson Phillips 09/14/16I was 34 then, an operations director for a satellite TV company, with a young wife and three small children living at home in Perry. It was early, sometime after 6 a.m. on a bright and sunny September morning. I remember it being a little chilly—but not cold—as I drove south on I-15, heading to Salt Lake City to meet with management, office staff and technicians. Somewhere near Ogden I got the call.
“Are you listening to the radio?” asked my wife. “A plane crashed into a skyscraper in New York.”
As was my habit, I had actually been listening to a mix CD in my truck (some Journey jumbled in with some AC/DC, Kiss and Garth Brooks), and hadn’t heard the news. We both thought the crash was odd, and spoke for a little while about it. I continued my drive, hoping that the damage and loss of life wouldn’t be great. A few minutes later my wife called me back, telling me a second plane had hit the other skyscraper of the World Trade Center. This wasn’t an accident. Someone was attacking the United States. I can still clearly remember the fear in her voice as we spoke.
When I got to the office, everyone was crowded around the television. People were nervous, unsure of what was happening, and fearful of what would happen next. We all sat there, 30 or so of us, transfixed at the images of the burning towers, feeling horrified and helpless at the spectre of people jumping to their deaths to avoid being burned alive. When the third plane hit the Pentagon, I made the decision to send everyone home. At that point no one knew how big the attack was going to be or where it would end, and I wanted my employees to be with their families. I wanted to be with my family too.
In the days and weeks that followed that horrible day, however, something miraculous happened. I watched as a wounded nation pulled together. At least for a time, gone were the petty partisan attacks over elections and politics. George Bush was hugging Nancy Pelosi on national television. Chinese workers were sewing night and day to make American flags, and nearly every home had one. Broncos and Raiders fans were getting along, as were hippies and bikers, even gang-bangers and police, or so it seemed. And the New York police and fire departments were rightly respected as heroes.
For the first time that I could remember in my life, being American mattered more than any hyphen or subset, color or creed. What united us far outweighed anything that divided us. At least for a time.
Now, 15 years later, on most levels that’s all gone. Civil discourse between the national parties, and often within the parties, is now more the exception than the rule. Even in Box Elder County, where I’ve been proud of how the majority of our people somehow find a way to come together, officials are still continually criticized by an overly vocal minority as having “broken their oaths,” or even of “siding with evil” in city council and county commission meetings.
It makes me sad. People that disagree with us on politics, religion, the problem “du jour” or its solution are not automatically bad or wicked, nor are they always wrong. It’s a tragedy that it takes a traumatic event to make some realize that, and more tragic still that some never will.
I miss the days following 9/11, when what you believed was still important, but not as important as family, friends, neighbors, community and country. I miss the civility, when how you said something was as equally important as you had to say.
And I miss having national leaders who could demonstrate those values in public life.
Perry land dispute: Both sides share responsibility for current situation
Our Perspective 08/03/16
Amid accusations of intimidation, and counter accusations of vandalism and intransigence, the City of Perry is yet again embroiled in a controversy, this time over a half-acre piece of land that someone else thought was theirs for over 30 years.
This is the history of the issue: In 1985, due to rising water and ice levels, Perry City needed to upgrade the 3100 South access road running from the frontage west of I-15 to the city’s then sewer ponds on the west side of town. Needing more property for the road in order to properly grade it, the leaders of the city went to property owner Norman (Norm) Nelson, who, together with the Young family, had donated the original land for the road back in the 70s, when the sewer ponds were first constructed.
According to the Nelson family, in 1985 an agreement was reached where the city would give him a half-acre triangular piece of land on his property’s southwest corner in exchange for an additional 1.5 acres of land needed along 3100 South. The city provided a property description of the land to be traded, along with plat map to Nelson showing the new configuration, and he thought it was a done deal.
And for the next 30 years, it was a done deal. Nelson fenced in his property, his cattle grazed there, his children played there.
Unfortunately, it was later discovered that the land traded to Nelson was part of a land patent grant from the state of Utah to Perry City for its sewer ponds. Regardless of whether it was willful disregard or ignorance, the city could never legally transfer the land to a private citizen.
There is some dispute regarding how the city came to investigate the property’s ownership.
In 2012, after the sewer ponds had moved to Willard, Perry City needed to show public use of the land or the state of Utah would reclaim ownership, since the original land for the ponds had been received through a land patent grant from the state. The city chose to open the Three Mile Creek Shooting Sports Complex on the property. By 2015 the gun range was up and running and hosting events.
The Nelsons claim that the city was only interested in the property so they could offer camping at the range. Perry City has already been offering overnight camping on the disputed parcel during an NRA sponsored black powder shooting event slated for September.
“Dry camping is available east of the parking lot,” the brochure for the September event reads on Perry City’s website.
Regardless, Perry officials discovered that the land transfer of the half acre from Perry City to Norm Nelson had never been recorded. The 1 1/2 acre land transfer from Norm Nelson to the city had been recorded, though. Curiously, Perry City only had internal records of the land they received, not the land they gave.
The city approached the Nelson family to try to work out a solution, as the city stood to lose the entire 80-acre patent grant if the land was not returned to public use. The Nelsons, feeling the city was reneging on a deal 30 years after the fact, said, “Fine, give us back our land and you can have yours.”
While the emotions that drove the Nelsons’ reaction is understandable, the response was unreasonable.
However, the city continued to approach the Nelsons to work out a resolution, asking for a legitimate proposal from them to settle the situation. Despite the repeated attempts to get an offer from the Nelsons, which, according to the city, date back at least to early spring, the Nelsons failed to engage the city in good faith negotiations.
The Nelsons claim they didn’t understand the urgency with which the city was moving, and considered it bullying, until they found out that the city was already advertising camping on the property they still considered theirs. Soon after learning about that, someone from the Nelson family took a tractor and built up a “dirt bike” track near the southeast corner of the parcel. The city considered the act vandalism.
According to the Nelsons, they had been actively discussing an offer to make to the city, but they needed more time since as Len Nelson, Norm’s other son, was away, and they wanted him to be party to any agreement. It was at this time they received a registered letter from Perry City Attorney Craig Hall giving them 72 hours to accept or counter an offer of $1,900 to drop any claim to the property, return the land to its original condition, and accept any future financial responsibility for any possible wetland designations of the property, which could cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The Nelsons say they were prepared to make a counter offer at the following week’s city council meeting. The city attorney knew this, but instead of waiting a few more days the city filed a $400,000 lawsuit against Norm and Willie Nelson on July 13, asking for $300,000 in actual damages, and an additional $100,000 in punitive damages, which is where it stands now. According to City Attorney Hall, the $300,000 is to protect the city from remediation costs in case the Army Corp of Engineers declares the corner a wetland, the Nelsons being culpable because they altered the topography of the land.
In our opinion, the city’s escalation to a lawsuit seeking damages that could potentially bankrupt an upstanding member of the community is just as unreasonable as the Nelson family’s initial combative reaction to the situation—a situation that is just as much beyond the control of the city as it is the Nelsons.
We believe the city was operating in good faith up to the lawsuit, as they asked repeatedly for an offer to resolve the problem. The fact that the city already had planned use for the land is not sinister, since the property legally belong to the city, and maximizing any use of it which would benefit the city is not a breach of faith. However, it has been 30 years, and the land isn’t going anywhere, perhaps one more season without a city-owned camping area next to the gun range isn’t such a terrible sacrifice.
Perry City needs to recognize its own culpability. We speak of “the city” here to mean the government without consideration of administration. While it might be tempting for a current mayor to disregard the actions of a former mayor, agreements need to be honored. It was the city that made the 1985 offer, accepted Nelson’s land, and acted like everything was fine for 30 years. Whether by choice or forced from its own error, it was the city that ultimately reneged on a deal. The Nelson family has just cause to be angry about that.
Now that the truth of the land deal being invalid is known, Perry City has no choice but to reclaim that land and return it to public use. However, it is unreasonable to shift any burden for possible future wetland remediation costs onto the Nelson family. The responsibility for any wetland remediation belongs to the landowner, which has always been Perry City. It is our contention that the city needs to be accountable for its mistakes, and without the mistake made in 1985—whether it was willful or ignorant—the city would not be in the situation its in.
The bottom line is that Perry City has a responsibility to live up to the obligations it made to the Nelson family 31 years ago, and to make them whole, even if that means giving them a little more time without the threat of a lawsuit.
And the Nelson family needs to let the city do that.
Robbery of iconic ice dispensary is symptom of a larger problem
Writer's Block by Nelson Phillips 07/20/16
For many people in the Brigham City area, the last stop before a summer camping trip, picnic or day at Willard Bay was at a vintage machine on West Forest Street to fill up a cooler with ice.
Bob’s Ice, with its no-nonsense name and less than retail price, has been a local icon for years. If you don’t mind grabbing a few extra quarters at the grocery store, you can save nearly a dollar a bag.
But Bob’s Ice was recently the target of thieves and vandals, and the venerable old machine is, at least temporarily, out of commission.
“Bob’s Ice will be closed for the foreseeable future. If you have any information contact the Brigham City Police Department,” wrote the owner on a social media page.
The crime happened sometime during the night of July 9 and 10, when thieves broke the light over the door, then pried the door off and got inside. I haven’t been able to make contact with the owner to get specific details, but I’m sure the damage is very expensive, and parts for a vintage machine like that can’t be easy to find.
More than that, though, is the unnerving sense that Brigham City is changing, with a growing criminal element challenging the small-town security that most of us have clung to, rightly or wrongly.
In a story regarding crime in Brigham City earlier this year, Assistant Chief of Police Dennis Vincent said, “We’re no longer living in an environment where you can leave your cars unlocked, or your houses unlocked.”
As painful as it might be to admit, Vincent had a point. He wasn’t saying that Brigham City is unsafe, and compared to the rest of the country we’re all actually quite safe. But it’s time to face the fact that Mayberry was a fictional town set in the 1960s, and we don’t live there.
Brigham City, and Tremonton too, for that matter, have a drug problem which has turned into a crime problem. Addicts become thieves who break into cars, or storage sheds, or homes, or stores, or ice machines, so that they can scrape enough money or valuables together to trade for their next high. Often they turn to dealing drugs themselves to feed their habit, recruiting more addicts in the process, and the cycle replicates exponentially. In almost every single story I’ve covered for the News Journal that involves lives unraveling, petty crimes, and even major crimes, the common thread that binds nearly all of them together is addiction.
We’ve been fighting the “War on Drugs” for nearly 40 years now, but I don’t think we’re winning it. The people in Mexico living with cartel violence certainly don’t think we’re winning. For every dealer our police take off the street, like the mythical Hydra, two more seem to take their place. Maybe it’s time we tried something different, like focusing on the problem from a healthcare perspective rather than a criminal one. Maybe if we made it easier for people to get help without the fear of being jailed, more people would seek help.
I was heartened to see Bob’s Ice open last Saturday morning, the owners having trucked in a temporary machine to the location, if only for a few hours. They’re not giving up and accepting things the way they are. Neither should we.
Sports complex: We know cost, but what are the benefits?
Guest Perspective by Brigham City Parks & Recreation Commission 06/29/16
There has been much discussion about the cost of completing Brigham City’s sports complex, but little talk of the potential benefits that could impact all residents, both directly and indirectly.
The 65-acre complex will include two 4-plex tournament-style softball complexes, three additional combination softball/baseball fields and two multi-use fields that can host soccer, football or lacrosse. There will also be concession stands, three family pavilions, extensive walking trails, playground facilities and more than 900 parking stalls.
Softball is an incredibly popular sports tourism vehicle, and it is estimated that upon completion of the complex, the city could eventually host as many as 20 tournaments from March-October. The facility could host a complete spectrum of tournaments from men’s and women’s slow pitch and youth fast pitch to college fast pitch. That does not include other potential tournaments for baseball, soccer, football and lacrosse.
When considering the economic impact that this type of park can generate we must keep in mind that these players and their guests stay in our hotels, eat in our restaurants, fill up at our convenience stores and frequent a broad range of retail stores while staying in Brigham City.
Softball teams—each with 12-15 players—also bring along a significant number of additional guests with them. Youth events average four additional visitors per player. These visitors have plenty of time during their stay to shift from spectators to consumers. Adult tournaments average one additional guest per player. Tournaments could host up to 60 teams per two-day event.
Simple math shows that a youth tournament hosting 60 teams would bring 3,840 visitors to Brigham City (14 players + 2 coaches x 4 guests per player x 60 teams)
A study done of an ASA tournament in 2000 by Brian McCall estimated that all those visitors will infuse a local economy with $13,000 per youth team over the course of a two-day tournament, while teams in adult tournaments spend $5,000 per team. The estimated economic impact for a two-day tournament weekend is $780,000. It is estimated that leisure expenditures account for $1 of every $8 spent by American consumers.
Using just the tournaments Brigham City currently hosts, but estimating an increase in the number of teams that can play due to the addition of the new fields, the city could see an annual economic impact of more than $6 million. That represents a significant expansion of the city’s tax base that can be used to enhance or expand infrastructure, facilities, programs and services to the community.
And there is no reason to believe that people will stop traveling to play softball at any level, be it youth, collegiate or adult. According to the World Tourism and Travel Council, travel and tourism is a high-growth industry forecasted to double in size over the next decade. Along with telecommunications and information technology, travel and tourism is posed to be one of the three key components of the service-led economy in the 21st century.
But it’s not just about tournaments that bring visitors and their money. Brigham City’s recreation programs are already busting at the seams of available space, while youth sports programs regularly have to have waiting lists or add teams to accommodate those who want to participate.
The 4-plexes at the complex will be primarily used Mondays-Thursdays, from May-September for local league play. Brigham City’s local softball leagues are currently filled to capacity at the Pioneer Park facility. Then on weekends, the focus will shift to tournament action.
Having the ability to expand local recreation programming will also have broad impacts as a study done by the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress indicated that “A city’s quality of life is more important than purely business related factors when it comes to attracting new businesses, particularly in the rapidly growing service industries.”
By completing the complex, Brigham City is paving the way for significant tourism money to come into the community, for business attraction and retention, for increased tax revenues, and increased property values.
All of which is a benefit to local citizens.
The value of farmers’ markets: human interaction and local impact
Guest Perspective by David Walker 06/22/16
Are we missing something when everything we consume is ordered online or purchased from the largest retailer at the cheapest price? Are we short-changed when the very act of paying for our goods is a machine interaction? We just might be.
This Saturday, Historic Downtown Brigham City is sponsoring a farmers’ market for the summer growing season and we believe there is great value in what we are doing.
Public markets have been in existence for millennia. They represent the very essence of free enterprise and entrepreneurial activity. Whenever and wherever individuals, families, and clans have had excess to share and with wants they desire to meet, public markets have and do exist.
But public markets have a much greater impact on a small community than the distribution of goods and services. They can, in fact, help build a community, and we believe that is a good thing for Brigham City, particularly as we attempt to revitalize the historic district.
The consumption of locally-sourced and organically-raised produce is one such benefit, but there are others. There is the very real economic development activity of a small cottage industry testing the market for new products, which can ultimately lead to a full-fledged business. There are artists and entertainers that gain exposure to audiences. And there are social service and education opportunities that may reach those in need as in no other way.
Perhaps most important is the opportunity, as human beings, to be human. To interact face to face, to share a freshly prepared meal, to meet budding artists, and to admire the next generation of talent, or to learn the latest about healthcare or healthy living. Indeed, to relax and interact with one another as friends and neighbors.
Please support the Brigham City Farmers Market this summer, conveniently located in the Box Elder County Courthouse parking lot from 8 a.m.-1 p.m. each Saturday through September.
Brigham City Farmers Market: Eat well, live happy, and love life.
National Police Week: In Utah, relationship between law enforcement and public is mutually supportive
Writer's Block by Nelson Phillips 05/18/16
This week you’ve probably been seeing a lot of blue across your social media accounts, especially if you have friends or family members in law enforcement as I do.
Although these online observances are a relatively new phenomenon, the reason behind them has been going on for 53 years now. Established by a joint resolution of Congress in October of 1962, every May 15 has been set aside as Peace Officers Memorial Day, and the week that contains it as National Police Week.
“Whereas the police officers of America have worked devotedly and selflessly in behalf of the people of this Nation, regardless of the peril or hazard to themselves; and Whereas these officers have safeguarded the lives and property of their fellow Americans; and Whereas by the enforcement of our laws, these same officers have given our country internal freedom from fear of the violence and civil disorder that is presently affecting other nations; Whereas these men and women by their patriotic service and their dedicated efforts have earned the gratitude of the Republic” reads the resolution.
But with all of the political and social unrest in recent years, after Ferguson and Baltimore, after dozens of YouTube videos showing cops doing and saying bad things, does the American public still agree with the resolution passed in 1962? It would seem the answer to that question depends on where you live.
Box Elder County Sheriff Kevin Potter says that his deputies feel great warmth and support from our local communities.
“There are a lot of places in this country where the relationship of the police and the people they serve is terrible,” said Potter. “We’re lucky in that we don’t have that where we live. People are happy to see us, even if they’re having a bad day, even if arrests are being made they still support us, still stand behind us.”
Potter gave examples of people lining the streets for the funeral of Sheriff Yeates last year, or more recently for the funeral of West Valley City officer Doug Barney, who was killed in the line of duty in January. “There was a NYPD officer at the Barney funeral who said ‘We’ve got you beat, we can put 20,000 cops along the parade when one of ours is slain. But we don’t get the citizens lining the streets like you do in Utah.’ And it really struck me what amazing support we have here in Utah, and especially in Box Elder County,” said Potter. “I want the people to know how much that means to us.”
Potter’s praise also extended beyond the public to the men and women of the Sheriff’s Department.
“Our deputies and employees give tremendous service. They’re there in the middle of the night when you call 9-1-1, they’re missing their kid’s birthdays and Christmases, they’re sweating and bleeding and getting hurt” all because they want to serve, he said.
Chief Mike Nelsen of the Brigham City Police Department echoed many of the Sheriff’s sentiments.
“For generations, the brave women and men of law enforcement have answered the call to serve and protect our communities. They often work long shifts in dangerous and unpredictable circumstances, but yet the officers show the courage and honor that represent the best of America. They give up precious time away from their own families so that we can be safe and sleep well at nights,” said Nelsen. “During Police Week, we express our gratitude for these public servants who wear the badge and put themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe. We also remember those who lost their lives in the line of duty.”
Nelsen went on to thank the people of Brigham City and Box Elder County for the support shown to law enforcement, and asked that the public show their support a little more openly for the next few days.
“If you see an officer this week, tell them you appreciate them. They would put their life on the line for you,” said the Chief.
We live in a world of instant communication, where a bad deed by a law enforcement officer somewhere can spread like wildfire across the country, and it can color our view of the entire profession. As a journalist and as a citizen, I’ve had contacts with many in the profession, a couple of which I’d just as soon forget, but many, many more that were very positive experiences. Law enforcement officers are people, and subject to the same weaknesses and frailties as any of us. They have bad days, they have struggles in their lives, they worry about their children, they worry about money and their future, and sometimes have to worry about their own safety. But they also worry about the public, about you and me, our safety, and our kids and our communities. That’s a noble calling.
When I’m listening to the scanner during a major event, it still amazes me how dedicated these men and women truly are, to the public and to each other. They actually do rush in when others run away, whether it’s an overturned propane tanker near the Brigham City Airport threatening to explode, or a (luckily false) rash of bank robberies in Tremonton.
Although I wouldn’t shy away from a story of police wrongdoing, which is a necessary check on the tremendous amount of trust and power bestowed upon those who wear a badge, I also don’t shy away from giving credit where credit is due.
This week, and most weeks for that matter, my view of the law enforcement profession is colored by what I see, and in Box Elder County that color is true blue.
Governmental, business engagement in BC’s downtown revitalization is reason for optimism
Writer's Block by Nelson Phillips 02/17/16
Whether they supported funding it or not, even critics agree that the Academy Square building in downtown Brigham City has been restored beautifully. As people climb the grand staircase and turn into the ornately detailed ballroom for the first time, the most common reaction I’ve heard is a gasped “Wow.”
As a reporter, I’ve had a few opportunities now to attend functions there, and I have to admit, I’m impressed. The building is nothing short of stunning, mixing the old and the new in a way that seems to announce that Brigham City has not only arrived, but never actually left.
When I hear city officials proclaiming that it will one day prove to be the cornerstone of a revitalized downtown, a big part of me not only wants to believe them, but does. With the work the city and county have been doing to find the area a brand (birds, who knew?), the beginnings of a cohesive revitalization plan, and what seems to be a renewed commitment on the part of downtown business owners to innovate, upgrade and attract people back into the heart of the city, I have to say I’m cautiously optimistic for downtown’s future.
The stars seem to be aligning in Brigham City’s favor, beginning with the construction of the LDS temple that brings thousands of visitors into the city. That was followed by a general uptick in the economy that has seen sales tax revenues consistently outpace projections, enough to help the city fund the addition of nine more pickleball courts. Add to this the expansion of Utah State University Brigham City, which will hopefully keep many of our young people here at home instead of emigrating to Logan or Ogden, the awarding of high profile contracts to Orbital ATK that will keep hundreds employed for years to come, the expansion of Proctor & Gamble, and even the fact that UTOPIA is no longer losing money (and building in Perry!), I think the Brigham City Area Chamber of Commerce has a right to be optimistic as well.
And it’s this optimism that I try to dwell on as I circle the block for the third time trying to find a parking space for Academy Square. I’m still optimistic as I balance precariously on the snow-covered landscaping stones between the Academy building and the Hampton Inn, trying desperately not to fall and damage my tablet and camera, or worse, myself, as there is no real path there between the buildings from the hotel’s northeast parking lot.
“Next time,” I tell myself, “I’ll just park at the courthouse, or at Smith’s, and walk over.” But I never do. Instead I continually miss the one parallel spot open on Main Street, decide repeatedly not to risk parking a Suburban in a narrow 90 degree stall between two cars next to the Main Street Church, and eventually end up back at the same hotel lot, balancing on stones.
“Sorry I’m covered in snow and mud for our interview, Governor.” Just kidding, that never happened.
It was my interview with Jonathan and Courtney Johnson.
Do your part to revitalize downtown by supporting Academy Center
Guest Perspective by David Walker 01/13/16
A recent article in the Box Elder News Journal announcing the contract for management of the Academy Center generated a surprising number of comments on our Facebook page. It was accompanied by a stunning interior photo. Most expressed excitement for the building. “I’m really excited for all the possibilities...so beautiful,” read one. Another person wrote, “Really wonderful to have this addition to Brigham City.” And from several others, “It is so beautiful.”
There were, however, other comments, such as —“Really, in Brigham City. Wow.” And we have had numerous conversations with downtown merchants, property owners, restaurateurs, and visitors who have a great affection for this quaint little community, but cannot seem to view it from any perspective other than the past.
Historic Downtown Brigham City is a 501c(3) non-profit established at the encouragement of local and county officials to assist in revitalizing historic downtown. We have a lot of work to do. But if our focus is to bring life back into the historic commercial center of the city, we cannot do so by looking backwards.
Those who opposed the Academy Center project did so on ideological grounds, often voicing something akin to, “it shouldn’t even be here” or “it never should have been renovated.” Regardless of whether or not there is legitimacy in those claims—and we are not here to argue that one way or another—the fact of the matter is this: the Academy Square building and adjacent restaurant are here today. They are going to open and it portends great change in Brigham City, so long as it is managed properly.
Like other Main Street projects, we wrestle with the question of how to revitalize historic downtown in a way that preserves our history. Our hope is to add more restaurants, retail shopping, and art venues downtown. We have all the building blocks in place; historic infrastructure, city and county support, and a few brave merchants willing to duke it out in some tough economic times.
And now we have the Academy Center. The influx of visitors into our community will benefit everyone with increased economic viability for business, increased tax revenues for government, and an elevated cultural experience for the community.
We can’t change history. Let’s put past missteps in the past, and put our support behind this wonderful and historically significant facility, if for no other reason, than to make sure that the money that has been spent doesn’t go to waste.
Let’s get out and support the new Academy Center. If you haven’t seen it, you should really take the time for a visit. It really is beautiful, and yes, it really is in Brigham City.