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County fair to proceed; some events canceled

The show must go on — even if not exactly as planned.

Organizers of the Box Elder County Fair met last week to set the schedule for the weeklong celebration, scheduled for Aug. 22-29 in Tremonton. The uncertainty surrounding the status of the COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to plan for the huge event, which draws thousands of people from around Utah and the Intermountain West, but officials are doing their best to put on a show that keeps the fair’s deeply held traditions as intact as possible while maintaining public safety.

Mainstays like the Box Elder Junior Livestock show and Golden Spike Rodeo are still happening, but others like the parade, carnival and daily bandstand entertainment have been scrapped.

“We need to cowboy up and focus on what we can do,” County Commissioner Stan Summers said.

The 95th edition of the fair will be one to remember in part because of coronavirus-related restrictions, but organizers are working to make sure that isn’t the main takeaway when all is said and done.

Some of the details are still being worked out, and will be in flux in the coming weeks because of the need to adapt to whatever conditions are present at fair time, said Jan Rhodes, manager of the Box Elder County Fairgrounds and president of the fair’s board of directors.

“You can plan on 4-H and FFA exhibits along with home arts and crafts on display, the Golden Spike Rodeo and great fair food,” Rhodes said.

Among the details still to be worked out are whether and how social distancing will be implemented at the rodeo, which saw record-high crowds last year following the installation of new seating at the main arena. A live concert benefiting Utah Honor Flight to kick off the celebration is still in the works as well.

Noticeably absent will be the annual parade, carnival, bandstand entertainment, fun run and commercial exhibits. Organizers determined those events would present too many challenges to be able to pull them off in a safe manner.

“There is no higher priority for Box Elder County than the health and safety of our fair partners, participants, guests and community,” a statement from fair organizers reads.

For many, the junior livestock show is the centerpiece of the fair, and organizers were determined to keep it that way, even if it means keeping people out of the crowded auction building.

“This is a great opportunity for the Box Elder County community to remember what the fair is all about — the traditions of community and agriculture and the chance for our youth to see the rewards of their hard work,” the statement reads.

The theme for this year’s fair is “Where Generations Share the Magic.” A full schedule of events will be available in the coming weeks, and more details will be published as they become available.

What goes up ...

The PAWS for Applause 4-H dog agility, obedience and showmanship club delighted spectators at Garland City’s Wheat & Beet Days on Saturday, July 11, with participants guiding their dogs through an obstacle course. See more photos from Wheat & Beet Days on page A2.

Fire restrictions to take effect this weekend

Campfires will be prohibited in unincorporated areas of Box Elder and other counties in northern Utah beginning this weekend as officials implement new summer fire restrictions.

Persistent hot and dry weather has prompted the restrictions, which take effect at 8 a.m. Saturday, July 18, Box Elder County Fire Marshal Corey Barton said.

Beginning Saturday morning, open fires will be outlawed in unincorporated areas of Box Elder, Cache, Rich and Weber counties until further notice. Also off limits in those areas are the use of fireworks, tracer ammunition, exploding targets, and torch cutting or welding without a permit.

Several counties in the central and southern parts of Utah already have similar restrictions in place, including Juab, Millard, Sevier, Sanpete and Wayne counties, said Kaitlyn Webb, statewide prevention and fire communications coordinator for the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands.

Webb said that wildfires have already burned more than 150,000 acres of mostly open land in the state this year. She said fire danger across most of the state remains high, with low humidity, high daytime temperatures and frequent winds combining to create “higher than normal fire potential” in many areas.

As of last week, Webb said there had been 644 wildfires started so far this year, compared with 221 at this time last year and 409 in 2018. While many of those 644 were small and quickly extinguished, 520 of them were human caused, representing 81 percent of all wildfires in Utah this year.

“Given the current fire conditions and fire behavior firefighters are experiencing, prevention of human-caused fires is crucial,” Webb said.

Officials decided that putting restrictions in place ahead of the Pioneer Day holiday weekend was prudent given the high incidence of human-caused fires this year, and the fact that many people celebrate the state holiday by lighting their own fireworks.

Webb said there were 68 new fire starts over the July 4 holiday weekend, including 18 started by fireworks, 13 by equipment, and three by campfires.

Cities, towns and other incorporated areas still have jurisdiction over whether to allow fireworks within their borders. Brigham City, Perry and Willard have had their own restrictions in place since the beginning of July, but those in the northern part of Box Elder County have not put extra restrictions in place yet.

The discharge of fireworks remains off limits on lands owned and operated by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and Utah State Parks.

Several fires started by lightning in early June burned about 10,000 acres in remote parts of Box Elder County. While the fire season has been relatively quiet since then, Barton said it’s important to remain vigilant about fire prevention as an abundance of grasses and other fuels continue to dry out and sit ready to burn.

As on Monday there were three active wildfires across the state, the largest being a 125-acre blaze in southeastern Utah. The largest fire in the state so far this year, the Canal Fire, was recently contained and extinguished after consuming more than 78,000 acres in Millard County.

Box Elder firms take advantage of PPP loans

Sixty companies in Box Elder County have received at least $150,000 in federal funding to help keep their employees paid through the COVID-19 pandemic, and many more have received smaller amounts, according to new data released last week.

The federal Treasury Department has released a list detailing 4.9 million loans totaling more than $521 billion nationwide that had been approved through June 30 under the Paycheck Protection Program, part of the CARES Act, which Congress passed in late March to help employers meet their payrolls during the pandemic.

The program made funds available starting in early April. Due to high initial demand, it was expanded two weeks later, and again last week.

The data released last week include company names and addresses for firms that received at least $150,000, and as much as $10 million. In Box Elder County, nine companies received at least $1 million, 24 received amounts between $350,000 and $1 million, and another 27 received $150,000 to $350,000.

Dozens more in the county received loans totaling less than $150,000. The government has not released names or addresses for those companies.

Since exact loan amounts for each company were not disclosed, the data show that the top 60 participants in Box Elder County received somewhere between $27.5 million and $76.5 million altogether.

The loans, which come with low interest rates or in some cases can be forgiven altogether, helped companies retain more than 6,700 jobs in the county from April through June, according to the report.

Statewide, lenders in Utah approved 50,691 PPP loans totaling nearly $5.25 billion through June 30, accounting for slightly more than 1 percent of the nationwide total.

PPP recipients in Box Elder County represent a wide range of industries, from construction and transportation firms to restaurants and medical clinics.

As recent spikes in COVID-19 cases have forced some states to delay or roll back reopening plans, the Treasury Department said the PPP program still had nearly $132 billion in loan funds available as of last week.

Those who received $150,000 or more, and therefore had their names and addresses disclosed in the report, accounted for most of the funds but amounted to fewer than 15% of all borrowers nationwide. The Associated Press and other news organizations are suing the government to obtain the names of the remaining recipients that received smaller amounts.

While the PPP was designed to help small businesses minimize layoffs, last week’s list revealed that many not-so-small enterprises received loans through the program. A number of Wall Street and private equity firms, billionaire music mogul and entrepreneur Kanye West, billionaire West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice, several large restaurant chains, and a range of political groups across the spectrum were among those receiving funds.

Companies owned by three Republican Utah legislators have received up to $2.7 million under the program. Companies owned by House Speaker Brad Wilson, Sen. Jerry Stevenson and Rep. Mike Schultz all received loans.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.