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The City Journals

Residents seek to protect Mill Creek Pond

Apr 11, 2018 11:29AM ● By Holly Vasic

A heron at Mill Creek Pond during the warmer seasons when the area is lush. (Steve Norr/MCPAC)

Mill Creek Pond may be opening the gate but it won’t be the next Jordan Parkway. When the lease between the pond’s community’s HOA and South Salt Lake came up for automatic renewal last December, the space was brought up for discussion…again. Council members, residents, HOA members, and others have different opinions on how Mill Creek Pond can play a role in the city and with the general public.

At the first council meeting in February, the council chambers were much fuller than usual. Even Councilmember Sharla Beverly commented by saying, “We have a pretty full house.” This was because Mark Kindred, council member at-large, had a certain discussion point to address—the Mill Creek Pond. Neighbors, whose yards back up to the water in this area, were worried about people having unfettered access to this accidental wildlife preserve. This unique mix of manmade flood retention and actual creek is owned partly by the residents, partly by South Salt Lake, and partly by Salt Lake County with a lease agreement between the HOA and the city. 

“I don’t agree with the lease between us and the HOA,” Kindred said. The subject was brought to Kindred’s attention by a former chair of the Redevelopment Agency who forwarded him an e-mail from another resident. Kindred had no idea the agreement was in existence until he received the e-mail and he wanted some answers, such as why the property had not been deeded to the HOA. Kindred does share the neighbors’ concerns about unrestricted access. “I would like to see us take students, take Promise kids, through there on a supervised basis,” Kindred said.

Steve Norr, head of the Mill Creek Pond Action Committee—also known as MCPAC—and resident with a home by the water, said they have worked with the Scott School and give a yearly tour to those children already, which was an agreement with the city. “We are totally open to other school groups coming,” Norr said. 

As for the lease agreement, Norr explained that the residents were maintaining the creek anyways but the lease made everything official. Norr recalls living on Welby Avenue in the 80s and experiencing flooding in those neighborhoods. Mill Creek Pond was created to maintain the flooding and then, Kindred explained, Ivory homes came in and built around the pond and the RDA did sell the land to them to do that. A memo from 1988 shows the original intention of the property was for homeowners to maintain the pond but according to Norr, they just never made it formal. 

Norr said the area has been gated ever since he moved in, about 16 years ago, except for an entrance on 3195 South. 

“There was a lot of vandalism, theft, people living back there,” Norr said. About five years ago that last section was also gated. Opening up the creek to the public would cause similar problems according to Norr and other residents. 

Salt Lake County has their own special gate and access to the pond in which they enter with large trucks to dredge the pond. This allows more room for the water to flow and prevents flooding in surrounding neighborhoods, the true purpose of a flood retention basin.

But this isn’t the first time opening the area up to the public has been suggested. “Nine years ago the county proposed putting a trail back there similar to the Jordan River trail,” Norr said. “That is how MCPAC began, the neighborhood came together to keep that from happening. People who have been around the pond know there isn’t room for a trail along most of the pond and creating something like that would cut into homeowner’s private property.” 

The Mill Creek Pond area also has many animal residents that have made their homes there. On MCPAC’s blog there are pictures of western screech owls, pelicans, heron, geese and other wildlife. Shelly Norr spoke at the February council meeting and said, “We’re caretakers of the animals that fly in there, that happen to migrate in there, we make sure they’re safe.” 

South Salt Lake City attorney Lyn Creswell, who crafted the original agreement, agrees someone needed to take care of the pond. “We had a legal responsibility to maintain the ecological integrity of this area,” Creswell said. He referred to the lease agreement as really a “caretaker agreement” that he just happened to put the word lease on because the city did not have the time or resources to take care of this valuable asset. Creswell said, as he spoke to the council members, “it’s valuable in the fact that it has an ecosystem that does not exist anywhere else in the city.”

MCPAC and others seems to agree that sharing this hidden wildlife sanctuary in the middle of a metropolitan area is just fine, but opening the gates to unlimited public access is not. These residents feel an obligation to the animals that call this place home as well as their own homes whose backyards come to the water’s edge. 

As for why the land had not been deeded to the city, Salt Lake County has a legal responsibility because the pond is a flood retention reservoir first and foremost.