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Tooele County growing fast

It’s 25th on U.S. list; affordability is called a lure

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The Prudens, Michelle, left, Lindsey, Steve and Meagan, sit in their back yard. The family moved to fast-growing Tooele five years ago to get away from the congestion of the Salt Lake County area.

The Prudens, Michelle, left, Lindsey, Steve and Meagan, sit in their back yard. The family moved to fast-growing Tooele five years ago to get away from the congestion of the Salt Lake County area.

Scott G. Winterton, Deseret Morning News

The small-town feel of Tooele was a perfect match for Steve and Michelle Pruden, who moved their family here to escape the congestion of West Valley City.

"It's just a good feeling of community here," Michelle Pruden said of the town about 35 miles to the west of Salt Lake City.

The Prudens are among several thousand Utahns who have moved to Tooele County in recent years, making it the state's fastest-growing county and the 25th fastest-growing county in the nation, according to a new census report.

The report, released Thursday, estimates some 7,230 people moved to Tooele County between April 1, 2000, and July 1, 2003 — boosting the county's population by nearly 18 percent to an estimated 47,965.

Other Utah counties to make the top 100 were Washington County, which ranked 46. That county's population grew by about 15 percent to 104,132, No. 49 Wasatch County also saw an estimated 15 percent growth to about 17,509. Their fast-paced growth rates were among 20 of the 100 fastest growing counties located in Western states.

Pam Perlich, senior research economist at the University of Utah, said she's not surprised by the growth since Wasatch and Tooele counties are tied to the Wasatch Front and Washington County has a healthy economy of its own and is tied to Las Vegas.

"The cost of living on the Wasatch Front has gotten so high," Perlich said. "You look out west and see the Oquirrh Mountains, on the back of those mountains is the Tooele Valley, where housing is very affordable."

Perlich said census data suggest many of those moving to Tooele Valley communities are commuting. The county gained 6,738 workers over the decade, but only 825 new jobs, according to the 2000 Census. Meanwhile, the county's daily commute of 64.2 minutes is among the longest in the state, the census said.

Salt Lake County, with an estimated 2003 population of 924,247, was the nation's 44th largest, the census said.

According to the estimates, half of the nation's top 10 fastest-growing counties were located in Georgia, and a Virginia county near Washington, D.C., topped the list with a growth rate estimated at nearly 31 percent.

Tooele County Commissioner Gene White said evidence of the county's growth can be seen in the county school system. The Tooele County School District has built three new elementary schools, rebuilt Tooele High School, and added on to Grantsville High School, all in the last two years. Five years ago 7,000 students were enrolled in the county's schools; next fall, 11,200 students are expected, said Assistant Superintendent Mike Johnsen. Voters will be asked to approve a $28 million bond issue for two more schools this June.

"We've just finally been found out," White said. "They've been able to come out here and get into some homes for a reasonable cost."

White said the growth has strained the infrastructure — particularly roads and water supplies.

"Tooele city has about run out of places to go for water, " he said.

A surveying project is under way to locate aquifers in the valley and find out how long they'll take to recharge, and construction should begin this summer on widening of U-36, the main highway connecting Tooele and Stansbury Park to I-80.

To the Prudens, who moved here about six years ago, the growth is welcome. Steve Pruden, who was elected this fall to the City Council, is principal of the LDS seminary at his daughters' high school. He said he requested a transfer here because his family was searching for a quieter way of life. Views of the Oquirrh Mountains and the Great Salt Lake were added bonuses.

"It's a great life out here. We have just about everything we need," Steve Pruden said. "It's the best of both worlds in a sense. Salt Lake is half an hour away if we need it, and we have our own infrastructure, our own entertainment our own activities."

E-mail: dbulkeley@desnews.com