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Front Page » August 5, 2003 » Local News » Government, recreation agencies discuss community center ...
Published 4,066 days ago

Government, recreation agencies discuss community center concept


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By RICHARD SHAW
Staff reporter


Utah State Park Ranger Chad Wade looks out of his patrol boat during a recent swimming event at Scofield Reservoir. The quiet waters of the reservoir today belie the controversy that has raged for years about water in the area. The dam, located a few hundred yards behind the boat, was built in the mid-1940's.

Most of Utah's history records indicate Scofield Reservoir was built in 1942 as a direct result of the effort for national security during World War II.

But according to local accounts, the construction of the dam did not commence until 1943 and the structure was not finished until the spring of 1946, nine months after the Japanese surrendered to the allies.

The war was an impetus for construction of a new dam on Fish Creek because federal officials feared a repeat of the 1917 Mammoth disaster that wiped out railroad tracks traveling up Price Canyon.

But the push for the constructing the dam and reservoir had been on for years, particularly since 1940.

Even with concerns regarding the existing dam's stability, little happened during 1942 except continual pressure from the local community on Washington connections to get federal funds to help build the new structure

The Utah Legislature was setting up laws allowing water districts and organizations to tax areas of the state to construct capital improvement projects.

A Colorado law passed in 1941 had set the precedent for similar legislation. But citizen tax groups and individual activists promised to file lawsuits in a legal effort to have the courts declare the laws unconstitutional.

Little progress had been made along the lines of obtaining funding by early 1943.

Formed to secure funding and direction for a new dam, the Carbon Water Conservancy District named Ray Walters to head the board in 1943.

At the time, projected costs to construct the dam at Scofield ranged from around $200,000 to $750,000. In 2003 dollars, the structure would cost upward of $8 million to build.

Once the water concervancy district had selected a leader, the board decided to have local attorney Therald Jensen try a test case on the the legislation's constitutionality rather than to wait for court challenges to be filed by unfriendly sources regarding the legality of the taxing ability provided by the law.

In May 1943, Utah Congressman Walter Granger toured the proposed dam site and discussed the vialbility of the structure with the district board members.

According to news reports published in the Sun Advocate, Granger told the committee that, "in his opinion," plans for the dam could go ahead despite the possible legal problems.

By the end of June 1943, the U.S. Congress rushed through federal legislation committing money for the Scofield water devenlopment project and President Franklin Roosevelt had signed the bill.

Within one week, two engineers showed up in Price and started to set up operations. Officials expected the rest of the engineering and design staff for the project to arrive in Carbon County by the end of August.

The declared intent of the engineers was to have the preliminary work and the core of the dam completed by fall 1944.

During the same period of time, other money began to come into play to help with the financing of the structure. For instance, Utah State Fish and Game (the forerunner of today's Division of Wildlife Resources) put up $31,000 toward construction.

Interestingly enough, documents of the time also still mention how the construction of the new dam will aide Sanpete County in the construction of the Gooseberry Narrows Dam, despite the fact Sanpete had decided to pull out of helping to fund the Scofield project.

However, less than a month later the news had changed. Two unfriendly lawsuits concerning the districts taxing authority as well a the decision that voting by both district members and the general public, along with contract negotiations between involved parties quickly drained the enthusiasm for the project that was apparent earlier in the summer.

In late August both the CWCD chairman and officials from the Bureau of Reclamation finished their talks and expressed that they were satisfied with the new contracts. However, despite the fact that BOR officials had been given the go ahead to approve the contracts, it was learned that any signed documents must be sent to Washington D.C. for final approval.

As for the friendly lawsuit that was the first to be filed on the subject of allowing water districts to act as taxing agencies, it was to soon come before the Utah Supreme Court, but a final decision was not expected until the winter of 1944. Obviously a decision which didn't uphold the law would mean the entire project would be off because the water district would have no way to pay for the loan

Meanwhile design work went on, even though no shovel of dirt could yet be turned.

Despite the setbacks, bids were put out for construction of not only the dam, but other work associated with the project, including the relocation of the highway and the rail spur in the area. In late September, W.W. Clyde of Springville was selected as the general contractor, and work on those relocation projects began immediately with a promise that if the law was set back construction would cease at once.

In January 1944, the Utah Supreme Court ruled that the law allowing districts to tax their citizens was constitutional. Since water users in the county had approved the building of the dam by an overwhelming vote the previous October, only one obstacle remained: a vote of the general public in the county allowing the district to levy taxes.

That election was set for February 21 and up until that date those in favor of the project campaigned vigorously for its passage. There was little opposition to the idea, with only a few individual dissenters voicing their opinions. The vote reflected support of the dam as more than 400 people voted for the increase in taxes and only a handful opposed the measure.

The work began in earnest on the actual dam that spring. However, as with all construction projects, delays and other problems slowed down the process. Work began in May of 1944, but only 45 men could be found to work on it. The contractor needed 55 more people to work, but the demands of a war time economy and so many men in the service meant few bodies were available. In fact, for the summer months some of the work was done by high school students from the county.

It would be another two years before the dam was completed, even though many in the county expected it to be finished that summer.

And that completion would come just in time for reasons unforeseen in the early 1940s.


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