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PROVO PLAYING HARDBALL ON COUNTY ROADS

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Washington is not the only place for political games. There's one going on right here in Provo.

The players: Provo City Council, Provo City Planning Commission, Utah County and residents of the Provost South Neighborhood.The equipment: "Big sticks," "key cards," road easements, private roads, deeds, agreements and hostages.

It all started several years ago when Utah County and Provo swapped roads. Provo vacated 100 East between Center Street and 100 South and gave it to Utah County so it could build the new administration building. In exchange for 100 East, Utah County gave Provo an easement above the county jail for Bonneville Drive.

However, Provo never built Bonneville Drive. Instead, sometime around 1988, the county and the city agreed to construct Nevada Avenue above the jail and Slate Canyon Drive below the jail. Both parties agreed then, and agree now, that the alignment of the two roads better suits the neighborhood than the one road.

But there are a couple of problems. The two roads are built on county property and have never been deeded to the city. And Provo never vacated Bonneville Drive. So what we have is Provo residents using two private roads. We also have a section of property dissecting the county's property that is dedicated as a road but will never become a road.

A simple solution - vacate Bonneville Drive and give back the county its property in exchange for the county deeding Nevada Avenue and Slate Canyon Drive to the city.

The county thinks this makes sense. But in a world of political games, Provo doesn't. The Planning Commission voted 7-0 not to vacate the road. City officials say they're not vacating Bonneville Drive until they know what the county intends to do with the property, even though they admit that they have no intention of ever building Bonneville Drive. If the county will use the property the way Provo wants it used, then the city will give it back. Otherwise, it will keep it. Meanwhile, the city expects the county to continue to allow Provo residents to drive across two private roads.

What the city and neighbors are really trying to do is keep the county from selling the land to the state for a new youth detention center. The state has talked about building a detention center on the property but now is looking to build the new detention center to the west near the juvenile court building.

Mayor George Stewart says the city is holding the county hostage, and he doesn't like what the city and neighbors are trying to do. Council members, Planning Commission members and neighbors admit that they are holding the county hostage, but the road easement is the "key card" and "big stick" in their battle to make sure the county uses the property the way the city wants it used. In other words, Provo is dictating what Utah County does with its property.

The county can either give in to the city and neighbors, or play political hardball. The hardball - the county could file suit or just tear up Nevada Avenue and Slate Canyon Drive and force the city to build Bonneville Drive. It seems to me that Provo would have a hard time winning any legal battle, especially since officials have openly admitted that they don't intend to construct Bonneville Drive and are using the street easement to hold the county hostage.

This is the second time that Provo has interfered in the county's plans for the property near the jail. A couple years ago former Mayor Joseph Jenkins told the jail committee that the best plan would be to expand the existing jail instead of building a new jail, and then turned around a few days later and told nearby residents that he would do whatever he could to see that a new jail was built elsewhere. The city quickly changed zoning laws and Jenkins and the neighbors basically forced the new jail out of Provo.

The county could have played hardball then, but chose not to. And I don't think it will play hardball this time either. But when Provo comes around and asks the county for a favor, county officials will likely remember how they've been treated. Like when the city asks the county for money to help build a performing arts center.