BOR Gets Warm Reception at Gooseberry Dam Meeting in Manti
|How a Gooseberry Dam could affect Scofield Reservoir remains to be seen, but this year the beach in the distance on the north end of the Carbon County reservoir is very large due to the lack of water in the area.|
A meeting held on Sept. 23 in Sanpete County brought out strong supporters of the Gooseberry Narrows project and the officials were warmly received by the group there. That was in almost direct contrast to a meeting that was held the evening before at the Carbon County courthouse.
"It was a more positive meeting and went smoother," said United States Bureau of Reclamation public relations manager Don Merrill the next day on the phone.
But that was no surprise to anyone involved. Sanpete County has been fighting for many decades to get a dam built on Gooseberry Creek, and many residents there have been supporters of the idea.
A similar presentation to the one given in Carbon County was presented to the group there and reaction was positive from both citizens and officials.
"I really believe we are getting closer to the project completion than we have ever been before," Sanpete County Commissioner Claudia Jarrett was quoted as saying to the Sanpete Messenger after the meeting.
In many ways the BOR's presentation in the meeting mirrored the one in Price the night before. However, the crowd was certainly different. Only between 30-40 people showed up, a quarter of those that came to the one in Carbon County, and some of those were representatives of various agencies. Included in the audience were J.D. Kesler and Peggy Harrison of Congressmen Jim Matheson and Chris Cannon's office as well as Donna Sackett, and Ron Dean of Senator Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch's office. Also in the audience were State Senator Leonard Blackham (who represents Sanpete County) as well as county/city government and Sanpete Water Conservancy District (SPWCD) officials.
But some interesting comments that somewhat differed from what was said in Price also emerged.
When the question of cost came up, Bruce Barrett, the director of the Provo office for the BOR told the audience that the bureau wasn't sure what the entire reservoir was going to cost because of some of the land expenses involved.
This brought on questions by David Brown of the Utah Rivers Council who raised the point that every time he hears about the project the cost has gone up and that now, officials say they don't even have an idea about what those costs will be.
Barrett also explained that the actual cost of the dam structure won't be known until the soil for it is excavated because the precise soil conditions will dictate that financial obligation.
Some Carbon residents and officials have questioned not only the cost, but the BOR's role in promoting this reservoir. At the meeting in Manti there was certainly none of that. However some statements were made by various officials about the situation.
Barrett told the group that in the case of this reservoir the BOR was acting as the financial institution for Sanpete County on the project. He pointed out that the BOR was neutral in putting the project together.
"This is not a secret process but a loan process," he told the audience.
Sanpete officials stated a couple of times in the meeting how much they appreciated the BOR and what they have done.
"I felt you (the BOR) represented us very well in Price last night," stated Dean Wheadon of the SPWCD.
Barrett said that the construction of the reservoir is a fairness issue because the people of Carbon County have had Scofield for over 50 years and that now it is time to build the other part of the Gooseberry Project, which in the beginning Scofield part of.
However Brown took issue with the statement.
"Why is the bureau talking about fairness as a federal agency that is supposed to be neutral?" he questioned.
Shaun Zinzer of the Army Corp of Engineers pointed out in the meeting that he has a list of 21 issues he hopes will be addressed in the EIS when it is released and he would also like to see the water permit linked with the National Environmental Protection Policy Act (NEPPA).
At this meeting the BOR also seemed more sure of the dates when talking about the preliminaries for the dam. They told the group that a notice would be published in the Federal Register by Oct. 15, updating a draft environmental impact statement by Oct. 31 and that the new DEIS would be out by Nov. 15. After that the public can comment on the new document until Jan. 15. Once that is past the EIS should be finalized by the end of March and a decision should be on record by the end of April.
The comment period falls directly in the path of the holiday season, and there has been some suspicion that this timing is on purpose. That is because traditionally it is harder to get people to comment on government actions during that time of year because they are so busy with their personal lives. The BOR even mentioned that fact in their meeting in Carbon County but said that with the release date "it just happened to fall in that time period."