Accusations arise during BOR Scofield informational meeting
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation representatives came to Carbon County on Thursday evening armed with court documents. Area citizens came with their displeasure concerning the possibility of losing what they have considered to be their property for years. In the end, the BOR got an earful from residents, while they in turn asked for a negotiating team to be named from owners of property around Scofield Reservoir.
BOR called the meeting following a Carbon County Planning and Zoning meeting in which they approached the county about a lawsuit the agency had won concerning land west of the dam where some cabins and trailers are located. With that meeting behind them, the agency decided to hold Thursday's informational meeting. More than 300 people attended, mostly to tell federal officials how they felt about what they see as a land grab.
"The government has no heart and no mercy," said Bruce Dunn, as he stood at the open mike in the audience. Dunn was one of the defendants in the suit that was settled in July. "The rest of you better watch out what happens to your property."
While the previous lawsuit addressed another section in the east reservoir area, the BOR also brought along a Google satellite photo of the Balotas subdivision. They had drawn a red line along the area where the government basically says it owns the land. That red line drew a lot of consternation from the crowd. Even though it wasn't included in the suit, it depicts the subdivision as being cut in half. In fact, some structures are also shown as being cut in half.
The meeting began with BOR officials explaining the history of the reservoir and the way land acquisitions were completed, through various agencies with the BOR finally ending up with the titles to the properties that were acquired. Then, Ed Vidmar of the BOR talked about the safety of the dam and how the reservoir capacity was attached to that safety. He pointed out that, in the event of a very unlikely influx of water into the reservoir, any structures that were below the full level of the reservoir's holding capacity could be flooded, break apart and jam up the spillway causing the dam to overflow and destroy its earthen base.
"It would take a one-in-2500 year event for that to happen. But in my time at the BOR I have seen that one-in-2500 year event take place at two different dams in northern Utah," he said.
He pointed out that if the water rose to 7630 feet behind the dam, it would top the dam. Water would rise 30 feet above its current level in Helper and 25 feet in Price.
"In that case, the railroad tracks which are right next to the Price River for some distance would be wiped out. Union Pacific said they would lose $1 million a day until it was repaired," he stated. "If it happened at night, we estimate that up to 19 people could lose their lives in the area."
But most people in the audience obviously disagreed. Comments came fast and heavy about the federal government taking people's land in the name of safety.
"You know you've owned this land since the 1940's, so why did you let people invest millions of dollars in it only to do this?" asked Paul Mancina, who was also involved in the suit as a defendant.
Many comments came from people who own land in the Balotas Subdivision, even though they were not part of the lawsuit. The photo with the red line infuriated many people, although the BOR would not commit as to what that line actually meant.
"If you are not listed on the court documents that we handed out, you are not involved in this lawsuit," said Christopher Rich, attorney for the BOR, who attended the meeting as a presenter. "But half the problem here is that no one checked back far enough on the properties when they changed hands. None of the title companies checked back more than 30 years. A lot of people are at fault for this. Each of you needs to go to your people and have them find out what the history of your properties titles are."
Many in the audience, already stinging from public land battles over wilderness and withdrawn energy leases, saw this as another way for the federal government to get their hands on land they shouldn't have. And some made comments concerning what such a move may mean.
"The only thing I could see that would cause such a massive amount of water to come into the reservoir and cause a flood like that would be if the proposed Gooseberry Dam was built, and then it failed and flooded Scofield Reservoir," said Carbon County Commissioner Mike Milovich, referring to a controversial project that Sanpete County has been proposing in the drainage for years.
Bruce Barrett, director of the Provo BOR office, denied that the project had anything to do with the actions of the BOR concerning safety at Scofield.
"Gooseberry hasn't got anything to do with this and neither does the speculation that we are going to raise the dam," he said, in response to Milovich's comment as well as rumors that have circulated concerning BOR plans.
The audience heaped recriminations on the BOR representatives, asking them why all this concern about simple fee titles and use titles didn't come out years ago.
"Why someone didn't do something before, I can't tell you," said Barrett. "None of us were here then."
In the end, BOR representatives asked that the crowd get together and choose five or six people to represent the Scofield area land holders and come and talk with them about what can be done.
"We really didn't come here to take anyone's property, but we would like a representative group to meet with us and find solutions to these problems," said Barrett.
The audience became testier as the two and a half hour meeting continued. At one point, Ron Spears, a developer in the Balotas subdivision, told federal officials that "the survey that was done seems to be a problem of the government you should get out your wallets and start paying for what you want."
The audience applauded loudly at this comment.
But Barrett and others on the BOR team insisted they had just come to explain the court case, to ask for suggestions and to find a team of people from the area they could talk with about alternatives to solve the problem.