WWII Attack on Pearl Harbor Pushes Gooseberry Project Onto Back Burner
The American ships in Pearl Harbor were still smoldering when government officials realized that a shattered Scofield Dam could create a problem for the national defense effort.
Before Dec. 7, 1941, plans were in place to build a large steel plant near Provo. Geneva Steel occupied a key position in national defense after the plant started producing in 1943.
Even if a West Coast invasion had been planned, the Japanese had no planes capable of flying 800 miles inland to bomb Geneva Steel. But the plant was still constructed to withstand potential attacks.
The roofs on the buildings were designed to take direct hits from 1,000-pound bombs and not give way to allow penetration through to the floor of the plant.
In addition, the majority of the natural resources required to produce high grade steel to armor battleships and cruisers in the United States Navy were located within several hundred miles of the Geneva operation.
One of the most important resources was high grade coal from Carbon County.
The black resource was transported to the plant by steam engines traveling through Price and Spanish Fork canyons.
When Mammoth Dam collapsed in 1917, more than 10 billion gallons of flooding water rushed down the canyon.
It had taken the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad almost one month to repair the related flood damage in order to get the steam engines back on the tracks.
In 1942, the old Scofield dam, in the structure's 1926 configuration, stored almost three times as much water as Mammoth
Therefore, a structural failure at Scofield dam could result in triple the amount of flood-related damages as the Mammoth collapse, halt the transportation of high grade coking coal and virtually cripple the operations at the Geneva Steel plant.
With the U.S. War and Interior departments behind the push to construct a strong large dam, it appeared Carbon County water concerns would obtain full federal backing to create a reservoir that could store 75,000 acre feet of water safely.
At that time, most historical documents indicate that the Carbon and Sanpete water development projects separated, primarily because Scofield Dam had national defense ramifications and Gooseberry did not.
In January 1942, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation claimed the Scofield dam development as a national defense project and actively started preparations to build the structure
Until then, local officials thought the Civilian Conservation Corps would provide the principal labor force to construct the structure.
But with America's entrance into the war, the CCC disbanded as jobs became plentiful or the men went in the U.S. military service. In fact, labor shortages would plague the entire country in general and the Scofield project in particular throughout the war.
On Jan. 22, 1942, the Sun Advocate reported that the Price River Water Conservation District and the Sanpete residents who agreed to pay approximately $70,000 or 40 percent Scofield's building costs in exchange for Gooseberry support decided to pull out of the project until the war ended.
The PRWCD members also decided that buying back into the project would cost Sanpete at least $116,000.
According to the newspaper report, the Price district felt "this would entitle them to the use of some of the water from the watersheds."
In addition, PRWCD would have to come up with more money due to Sanpete's pullout so the district would have to obtain approval from Carbon County voters to increase the mill levy from .2 to .3.
Less than two weeks later, PRWCD forwarded a resolution to the U.S. Congress through the Utah delegation requesting federal assistance to build the dam in Pleasant Valley.
The resolution indicated PRWCD would "with the full intention of setting up a legal organization that can and will participate in the paying back ... the proportion of funds which the federal government might advance at this time for immediate construction of this dam."
But despite BOR's concerns regarding the old Scofield dam, the wheels of government turned slowly.
The construction of the dam was delayed not by labor or material shortages due to the war, but by the political and legal ramifications of the project.