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Scofield cabins: Buy them - again

Carbon County Commissioner Mike Milovich explains the map displayed concerning the Scofield property negotiations to Rick Davis.

Sun Advocate publisher

At a meeting in the County Events Center last Thursday night, owners of some properties in Balotas Subdivision on the east side of Scofield Reservoir were told they may have a chance to buy the property their cabins and trailers sit on if Congress approves legislation that the Department of Interior is recommending.

For most, they never realized they didn't own it in the first place.

"The fact is that we are not driving the boat here," said Carbon County Commissioner Mike Milovich, who was acting as a spokesman for a committee that was selected to negotiate with the Bureau of Reclamation last year after the agency held a meeting in Price and claimed they owned and had title to a large part of the eastern part of the reservoir where people had been building cabins for over 60 years. "We have been trying to make the best out of a bad situation."

Milovich told the group that the negotiations had really not been going anywhere until Governor Gary Herbert and State Representative Patrick Painter (Dist. 67, which covers the western part of Carbon County) got involved.

"When they joined in the conversation the conversation went from negative to hopeful," said Milovich. "And at the meeting we had with the BOR two weeks ago they proposed a solution that we think is about the best we can get considering how dire things looked a year ago."

The nearly 200 people in the audience listened as Milovich outlined a three part offering from the BOR.

*Option one. The BOR will offer to sell cabin and trailer owners that have structures in place the lots those dwellings now sit upon. Based on law the BOR would have an independent appraiser survey the area that is now their property and assess the lots at fair market value. Then they would offer those lots only to the people who now have structures on them. Milovich said based on estimates and information he has obtained, that some of the smaller lots would probably sell for as low as $7,000 and some of the larger lots as high as $14,000.

*Option two. The BOR would enter into an agreement with each present resident that would allow them to lease the property their structures are on for 10 years at a time. The cost for this would be very low per year, but at the end of 10 years the lease would be reassessed and owners would then be informed if they could continue to lease or would have to vacate the property.

*Option three. Do nothing and let the BOR take the property back. Probably what would happen at that point would be a notice to clear out within 90 days and then the structures on the property would be torn down.

Some in the audience found the options to be fairly Draconian as they protested the fact that they had held the property for so many years and no one had told them it wasn't there. But many of the officials who worked out the deal told the audience that they felt it was a good deal considering what could happen.

"The point is that if the bulk of you are not interested in doing this the BOR will probably pull the offer back and then you will be left to fight it out in court with them," said Milovich. "Personally I have a cabin in the Scofield area but not in Balotas. Neither I nor the county have any skin in this game, but my advice would be to find a way to take the first option."

'Pass on to children'

As the audience asked questions the options were also rounded out in terms of information. Those that bought the property would then get a full fee title to that property, and with it being codified by an act of Congress it would be theres to hold and use for perpetuity.

"You would be able to pass it on to your children or even sell it," said Milovich. "And any structures on the property could be improved or expanded. But part of the deal is that you can't tear down an existing structure and build a new one."

A question arose from the audience about natural disasters or fire destroying structures and Milovich said that he thought some language could be put in the bill to allow people to rebuild under those conditions.

Milovich pointed out that if the property owners agreed and Congres passed the legislation it would take two to three years to finalize the deal. He said presently and up through that time the county has put a moratorium on building anything below the high water mark.

Some were also concerned that a proper search had not been done by the government and that there may be descrepancies in the line that is drawn through the subdivision of those who actually own their property and those that do not. But Milovich said that the BOR had hired a title company and in conjunction with Professional Title of Price had determined what was owned by the federal government and what wasn't.

BOR owns Bolotas

"The lines on these maps are not entirely accurate," he said pointing to the image on the screen behind him. "We don't have the exact coordinates at this time so these could move slightly one way or the other."

Some asked if other areas around the lake were affected by this.

"No because the BOR only owns the property in Bolotas," he said. "Some of the others are in a flood plain, but they own their property."

He also said that those that either bought or leased the property form the BOR would also have to make sure their structures are on foundations or piers to keep them from floating away if the water reached the high water mark. Part of BOR's purpose concerning the structures was that they would break loose in a flood season, block he spillway at the dam and cause the water to go over the dam and then it would fail causing damage downstream.

Meeting next week

Milovich asked that the audience sign forms that said they would consider the offer if it was ratified by Congress.

"This is not binding in any way," he said. "We just want to know that enough of you would be interested that it would be worth going back to the BOR with."

The meeting of the BOR and the representatives of the Carbon residents is set for Oct. 21.

Milovich also has some other information concerning the situation as well. He said roads that are now private in the section that presently belongs to the BOR will be deeded over to Carbon County. He also said that there were two other "bombshells" he needed to tell the group.

"First, all the private boat docks around the lake must be removed in the next few months. Second, The paved boat ramp by the lake near Balotas will be removed as well."

Some moans came from the audience concerning these two pieces of information, but former Judge Boyd Bunnell (who was part of the committee) stood up and told the audience that removal of the boat docks is concordant with federal law.

'Better than bulldozer'

"Look around the state, on all the federal lakes and reservoirs and you won't see them anywhere else," he said. "That's just part of the law."

Towards the end of the meeting the audience was asked by a show of hands how many would sign to consider the options and most of the hands in the room went up.

Painter spoke to the audience saying that people in that area need to be united in what they are doing.

"I've learned in my years in the legislature that it is better to speak with one voice than many when dealing with things like this," he said. "I see legislation all the time where 50 people come to speak to it and have different messages. It always dies before it gets anywhere. I think with this offer we have a good shot at preserving what you have. It is certainly better than a bulldozer." Here's some history about the Scofield cabin situation

*The property the BOR owns is under sections three and four of the Bolotas Subdivision on the northeast side of the reservoir.

*That property was deeded to them in 1927 and has never been sold to a private owner.

*In the 1950s and 60s the property was sudivided after being purchased by the Bolotas family based on what was apparently faulty data concerning where the high water mark, conflicting deeds, insufficient records, etc.

*It wasn't until 1998 when the BOR discovered the descrepancy and then began to consider what to do about the high water mark with structures located below it. At that time they 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.

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