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Federal court to review negotiated settlement in miners, state dispute

Sun Advocate reporter

A long standing legal dispute between miners and the state of Utah appears to be settled. At a hearing scheduled in Salt Lake City on Jan. 26, the federal court may put a rubber stamp on the negotiated settlement agreement in the matter.

The civil dispute centers around a hospital that miner advocacy groups maintain should have been constructed from money obtained by the sale of lands granted to the state of Utah between 1896 and 1929. Utah became a state in 1896.

During the designated time period, a total of 7,475,297 acres were transferred from the federal government to the state. The money obtained from the acreage, either by sale or lease, was to go to several different sources despite the fact that the properties were identified as school trust lands.

The classification stuck because the vast majority of the lands were to benefit schools, a total of 5,855,217 acres.

However, other categories have or should have received money from the remainder of the lands granted to the state by the federal government.

The categories include a reservoir fund, the two major state universities, the University of Utah's school of mines, three special schools, public buildings, the state hospital, a youth development center and a miners hospital.

Originally, 50,000 acres were earmarked to the benefit the hospital through the Utah Enabling Act - the law that allowed the state to enter the union in 1896

In February 1929, it was determined that the original amount of land was not adequate to fund an ongoing miners hospital, so the U.S. Congress granted an additional 50,000 acres under similar provisions.

Of the land in question, 92,787.7 acres have been sold, with only 7,212.3 remaining, according to 2000 data. The proceeds were supposed to allocated primarily toward funding the construction a hospital in Utah to care for miners.

At various locations in the state, miners hospitals have been maintained at times up through the late 1950s.

One of the more prominent of the medical facilities was a hospital that served the hard rock miners of Park City for years.

In 1957, the Legislature decided to turn over the money to the University of Utah.

The money was reportedly used to help build the rehabilitation center at the university's hospital. But many questions were raised about the situation, particularly the usefulness of the center to miners who were supposed to benefit from the medical facility.

In 1997, a year after the plaintiffs in the first lawsuit filed the legal complaint, the Utah Legislature amended the state statutes governing the matter. While still granting the money to the university, the legislators also placed a use of funds rider on the revenues.

The rider stated that the "funds, assets and revenues shall be used for the construction, equipment, furnishings and operation ...on the campus of the university ... either as a separate structure or as an integrated unit" in the present medical center.

The 1996 lawsuit was dismissed in 1998.

But a second lawsuit suit was filed in October 2000 and the ruling against the case was reversed. The complaints were about whether a trust was created by the actions of the government and, in the end, it was found that trust did exist.

In May 2001 a suit was filed by the United Mine Workers of America District 22, alleging that the state breached its responsibility concerning the trust that was created. The suit asked for an accounting of all funds and that money be brought into play to build the hospital as was originally intended.

After the wrangling and negotiating that has gone on for the past two and a half years the court will review a proposed settlement next week that allows the University of Utah to rename its present rehab facility "The University of Utah Rehabilitation Center and Miners Hospital." The facility will provide medical service to disabled miners (Utah residents who have worked in a mine at least two years or have suffered substantial injuries within a mine) and those with mining related illnesses. Services will be provided free of charge if the person has no insurance.

Another part of the settlement may bring the results of the lawsuit closer to Carbon County.

The university has agreed to set up community outreach programs and will establish a permanent clinic in Price or the Provo area for the treatment of miners.

The director of the proposed hospital will be Dr. Phillip Bryant.

Bryant will visit Price on Jan. 22 to discuss how the care will be handled.

Open to the public, the meeting will start at 2 p.m. at the United Mine Workers of America office, located at 525 E. 100 South, in Price.

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