1977: Drought becomes critical, casino raid ignites controversy
Editor's Note: This is one of a series of articles about the history of the Sun Advocate and the county it covers as a newspaper. The article is being written from front page stories that appeared during each year in commemoration of the 120th anniversary of the newspaper's birth in 1891.
Scofield Reservoir became a hotbed of contention in 1977 largely because of the persistent drought that had been going on for some time. In early February the Carbon County Commission submitted a letter to Gov. Scott Matheson asking that the reservoir not be used for recreation that coming summer. The stated that with the lake having less that 23,000 acre feet of water, use by anglers and others could pollute the water beyond where it could be usable for consumption by the public.
The Division of Wildlife Management had also preliminarily planned a fish kill for the fall of 1977 and the commissioners were concerned about that too. The debate got more hot as anglers and others who support them suggested the next week that there was much more pollution from the cabins around the lake and from mines above it than there were from recreational uses.
That summer the drought became worse and worse. Lawns died in many places, particularly all over the town of Kenilworth. Price City had literally no water and rationed its customers outside the city limits severely. Then in late June they rationed the water for residents. Right in the middle of the drought a huge rainstorm hit the area in early July. Ironically the rain came early in the morning after the night before a number of country club members did a rain dance on Tee number five, and the next morning that hole was under three feet of water. It was the worst flash flood in 25 years. The mud that came down and covered the golf course and buried many irrigation ditches in the county soon turned to choking dust as workers tried to clear it away.
Later in the summer, as the drought continued, the Carbon County Water Conservancy District turned over 793 shares of water to the cities of Price and Helper to alleviate concerns that they would not have enough to supply the towns' people, since the shares' worth had been degraded so much by the drought.
Vandalism also started 1977 as someone tore down three TV transmitter antennas owned by the county and in another incident Carbon High School had a break in in which obscenities were painted on walls in the gymnasium and in the band room over the Jan. 22 weekend. The vandals also pulled out fire hoses from the walls and turned water on the gym floor. While no cost estimate could be given for the damage at the high school, the transmitters were reportedly in the range of $1300 each.
A local country-western station started broadcasting late in the winter. An FM offshoot of KOAL radio, which had been on the air as an AM station since the 1930s. The reasoning went that when there was trouble with the antennas on Star Point for the broadcast stations from Salt Lake, KSOP, the country station, was what most people complained about not being able to hear. KOAL management felt that country music would be the best programming to have because of the number of people who listened to it. At the same time there had not been, nor was there a contemporary rock station in the area, nor did the counties antenna system support one. In the year before 3,000 signatures came in on a petition requesting the county make space for such a station (at the time KRSP) but the commissioner said that four stations were enough.
In late February five people were arrested when they got into a scuffle with police. The disturbance took place on Feb. 18 after the Region 6 wrestling tournament was held at Carbon High. Police had been called to quell a disturbance created by a few people and in the end not only were posters in the school torn down, but some of those involved kicked and beat on a police car in the parking lot.
An unusual one-car accident in early March injured 14 people. All of them were riding in a Chevy Blazer when it went off the right side of the road and then was over corrected and rolled one and half times throwing some of the riders out onto the road (Highway 6). A pickup came along and saw the accident at the last second and tried to avoid some of those on the road and ran into the Blazer and the collided with the other pickup truck. Injuries involved everything from a few cuts to three people being in intensive care.
Vandals and arsonists struck over a weekend in mid-March as they destroyed windows, tried to blow up the old bridge over the Price River that once served as the passage way for U-10, and was before the blast still being used, and set four fires, one in a convenience store rest room, two in dumpsters behind businesses and the other at the College of Eastern Utah's student lounge where the facility was totally destroyed.
Raids on liquor establishments and on a small casino in the early spring led to a lot of hurt feelings and some actual old town lawman tactics it was reported by the Sun Advocate in late March. County attorney Ron Boutwell contacted the governor's office about what he considered lawlessness in Carbon County and about what he thought was poor law enforcement. This was done without letting Sheriff Albert Passic, the commissioners nor the courts know he was doing it. Part of it was over a raid by federal agents (along with state police and some county deputies) earlier in the year, which Passic was not informed about.
The man who had tipped off the feds to the casinos activities was reportedly told by the sheriff "to get out of Carbon County." Things later calmed down after a meeting between all the parties involved. However Boutwell complained that he often got complaints about law enforcement in the county but he had no independent investigator to look into things and that is why he turned to the state. He also was upset with the paper for making it sound like he needed the permission of county officials because he was just upholding his oath to follow the law.
The situation blew up even more in the coming months. A Helper officer resigned saying that Helper Police Chief Karl Stavar told him not to enforce the law concerning the bars and possible prostitution in the town at a hotel. That same week the Utah Attorney General's office began investigating law enforcement in the county.
The year also brought a retrial of Gary Mitcheson, who had been convicted the year before on second degree murder charges. The Utah Supreme Court ordered retrial late in the winter and Mitcheson was brought back from the Utah State Prison.
The year was only half over and already there was more news than anyone could imagine out of the county, and there would be much more in the continuation of the stories told so far.
Cutline for flood photo: Tee No. 5 at the Carbon Country Club was totally under water after the worst flash flood in years hit the area in early July 1977. The monsoon downpour came right in the middle of one of the worst droughts in years in Carbon County. Ironically, the night before the rain hit, some members of the country club did a symbolic rain dance at the very spot this photo portrays a few hours later.