The man who may be representing Carbon County in the United States Congress starting next year reportedly said at a meeting in Fairview on May 29 that he would not change his view about the Gooseberry Narrows Project just because his district was changing.
"My position on this is not changing just because my Congressional district is changing," Third District Republican Rep. Jason Chaffetz was reported as saying by the Sanpete Messenger. "I'm doing this because I think it is right."
In the past few years Carbon has been represented by Democratic Rep. Jim Matheson, who appeared to be the only one of three representatives from the state that asked for a reasonable resolution to the problem without jeoprodizing Carbon's water. With the redistricting changes that were approved by the last legislature, that representation will change next year because Matheson will be running for the new Fourth Congressional District seat which includes Sanpete County.
This basically means that in terms of representation, the two Congressmen will be reversing who they represent when it comes to the proposed project.
Chaffetz, who is being challenged by Democrat Soren Simonsen for the seat, seems to not be bothered by the fact that suddenly he represents people who don't want to see the dam constructed.
According to the Messenger, he went on during his speech and pressed the point he initially made.
"They (Carbon interests) see it a different way, but in many ways there have been primary agreements that really need to be lived up to," he stated. "This project has been debated since 1933. I think it's been well aired-out; it's now time to come to a final decision and make it reality."
He said that he thought a decision favorable to Sanpete County would be handed down in 60-90 days.
Chaffetz statements fall on ears at a time when drought is looming in the area, particularly east of the mountains which carry water to Carbon County. Had the dam been built many years ago, how would that have affected water supplies in Carbon today. Would Carbon be in trouble in such a dry year?
"I can't answer that question," said Richard Lee, who has been affiliated with the Carbon Water Conservancy District for many years. "I guess you could figure it out, but I don't know."
However Lee does know about how the Bureau of Reclamation has been working in conjunction with Sanpete on the dam project and the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement Record of Decision.
"We were told the Record of Decision (ROD) would be out in January," said Lee. "But we haven't heard anything more about it for some time."
Chaffetz statement about the dam being in limbo since 1933 is basically correct, although a number of times in the last 80 years the project has been set aside as if it would never be approached again by both the BOR and Sanpete County. But it always seems to come up, often with a new generation of Sanpete politicians.
Carbon also has more political problems with the dam than just Chaffetz. While Matheson has been the only Congressional representative to consider the project from both sides, he is also the only one from the entire Congressional delegation that has not come out for building it. Senator Orrin Hatch has come out in favor of it while Senator Mike Lee said when he was in Carbon County a couple of months ago for a town meeting that he was not sure about it. He said he had studied the situation some but would not "take a public position on it until it got teed up before Congress."
However, about that same time he went on a tour with representatives from Sanpete County to look at the proposed project. How he feels today has not been voiced.
Another major politician who came right out and stated he was for building the project was Utah Governor Gary Herbert. Last fall while visiting Sanpete County he told a local reporter at the Messenger that he was in favor of building the dam saying "I know the issue. You don't have to convince me."
Sanpete continues to peck away at the wall of litigation and opposition to the construction. At present the dam and all its pieces would probably cost in the neighborhood of $70 million to build. However, the county cannot get money from the Small Dam Reclamation Act unless the price tag is under $50 million.
Part of that pecking is building some of the infrastructure now that would be included in the dam's total price if it was built today. For instance this past year Sanpete has been working on the Fairview Tunnel that already carries water to the Sanpete valley though the mountains from the drainage basin. There are also reports that they may start working on realigning the road (Highway 264) that would need to be moved if the dam was built. Doing those things ahead of time would make the request for money for the dam easier for Congress to swallow.
The ROD is apparently not finished and as of last December Sanpete still owed the BOR $86,000 for working on the document.
The Sanpete Water Conservancy District also had some representatives and consultants meet with a deputy commissioner of the BOR last fall in Washington D.C. and they came away feeling "the meeting was productive and a record of decision will be signed."