After a highly attended meeting last year in which the Bureau of Reclamation pointed out that some residences and cabins around Scofield Reservoir are located on United States property and not on private property, no one knew for sure what could be done to solve the problem.
Working with the Carbon County Commission, a board of residents and others was set up to negotiate a deal with the BOR and the Interior Department concerning the issues at hand.
After a year of work, meetings and compromise that board has come up with a tentative negotiated settlement with the BOR. Tentative however is the operative word.
First, the majority of residents that will be affected by the negotiation (primarilly those that have cabins in sections three and four of the Balotas Subdivision on the east side of the reservoir) will have to approve the plan.
Secondly, if the residents approve it the Interior Department will have to approve it too. Milovich said that he had been told the Interior Department would have no problem with the settlement.
Finally, Congress will have to approve the plan because it is dealing with the sale of Federal land to private individuals.
"We worked hard in the last year to get this done," said Carbon County Commissioner Mike Milovich in an interview on Wednesday afternoon. "When it came right down to it the BOR didn't own some of the property they thought they did, but they do own some of it and the solution to that will have to be approved by the people that now have structures there."
Milovich says that basically the situation can be handled in one of two ways.
First, the BOR (with the approval of Congress) could sell the land that structures are located on for market value in fee title. Or those that that wish to could lease their properties for 10 years at a time.
However, if the majority of residents don't approve the plan, the BOR will probably take action to just take over the land.
This gun-to-the-head situation has made many who have been informed about the solution unhappy, but Milovich said the group did the best they could to get the problem solved.
"These were the options we could work out, and it is a heck of a lot better than what we had when we began," he said.
According to the BOR there are conflicting deeds in county records after the recorded deeds which conveyed title to the Scofield lands to Reclamation. Second, lands were sold or conveyed to private owners based on insufficient title history information. Third, after-acquired-title for a significant land parcel passed to the U.S. in 1944, and the former land owner later gave quit-claim deeds to others which conflicted with the U.S. title.
In 1998, Reclamation filed a quiet title action in federal district court in response to the construction of a home on its land southwest of the dam. Ultimately, the Tenth Circuit Court ruled on behalf of Reclamation, affirming that Reclamation owned the land in fee and ruling that there was not a right to use on the property. The District Court subsequently issued an amended judgment affirming the Tenth Circuit ruling.
The concern from BOR is that if the reservoir level raises to flood stage, many of the homes and structures that are within the flood plain will come loose, travel to the dam and block the spillway which could lead to an eventual dam failure, jeopardizing Highway 6, the railroad tracks in Price Canyon and the towns of Helper and Price downstream.
The meeting for discussion of the negotiated settlement will be held at the Carbon County Events Center at 7 p.m. tonight (Oct. 7).