Editor’s Note: Greg Soter has been a public affairs consultant to the Sanpete Water Conservancy District for several years in its effort to gain approval of the Narrows Project. Following is a comment Soter has submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in support of a final permit for Narrows construction. Comments are being accepted until March 22 (see story on A1).
I’d like to share several observations in connection with the Narrows Project in Sanpete County. It is my intent that these comments will help lead the Corps of Engineers to issue a permit for construction of the Narrows, as proposed.
Creation of the Narrows would serve the public’s interest well for these (among other) reasons:
Our nation’s integrity: While I understand that “keeping the country’s promises” may not be part of the Corps of Engineers’ mission statement or responsibility, to me it is a festering misfortune that Sanpete County has been promised this project for roughly 80 years. The promise has not yet been kept.
Absolute integrity ought to be a prime objective for every segment of the federal government. The Corps of Engineers is now in a position to help make good on a very old promise (I realize, it wasn’t your promise) by permitting the Narrows. Or, the Corps could further stifle the promise by denying a permit, or issue a “weakened” permit that leaves Sanpete effectively without what it has been promised. I urge the Corps to step up and demonstrate the level of integrity that should permeate our entire federal government.
Enable Sanpete to use the water it owns: The water rights for the Narrows Project absolutely belong to Sanpete. The ownership has been discussed, disputed, and adjudicated. The State of Utah’s water technicians say the water is Sanpete’s. Utah’s Supreme Court said the water is Sanpete’s.
But ownership of the water is of little/no use to Sanpete if the contentions and objections of various groups over the decades have left Sanpete without the ability to capture and store what it owns for use when it’s needed. The public interest would be well served by allowing Sanpete to build the reservoir it needs to use the water it owns.
Environmentally favorable: From my perspective, the Narrows would be an environmental improvement. I have walked the proposed reservoir location, from the road (S.R, 264) north to the dam site, and to a lesser extent to the south of S.R. 264 along Gooseberry Creek.
At present, nearly the entire proposed footprint of the Narrows Reservoir is an unremarkable, not particularly attractive, pasture. The same site would become an attractive environmental asset if we created a reservoir there. It would be both a visual and a recreational improvement. (I do not subscribe to the theory that “untouched” is always environmentally better.)
I suppose a trained environmentalist could correctly point out that creating the Narrows would cause some “damage” to the proposed reservoir site and to banks of the Gooseberry Creek. My response is twofold: First, that’s why we have mitigation possibilities. Second, whatever changes may take place at both the reservoir site and Gooseberry (above and below the proposed reservoir) are more than balanced by the desirability of a small body of water that becomes a visual, functional and recreational asset. It’s a tradeoff that I believe serves the public interests well.
A sizable economical asset: It’s no secret that Sanpete is not an economically advantaged county. Most people don’t live in Sanpete because of generous income possibilities. Granted, that’s their choice.
Still, it serves the public interest to do what we can to enhance Sanpete citizens’ ability to improve their financial circumstances. The Narrows would improve farm incomes by allowing greater per-acre, per-season yields. Better farm incomes create direct and spin-off jobs.
More jobs and better incomes could enable more young Sanpete residents to secure higher education, then utilize that education in Sanpete, not elsewhere. It’s a highly-desirable, ascending spiral. “A rising tide lifts all boats.” (John F. Kennedy said that in defense of a dam project in 1963, incidentally.)
The $34 million construction budget alone will create 369 man-years of employment, according to the President’s Council of Economic Advisors. Many of the construction jobs will go to locals. The combined economic benefits of the Narrows are a very significant benefit to the public interest.
Recreational facilities: I like boats and lakes. Creating a small recreational lake—stocked with fish—at the top of Fairview Canyon appeals to me a lot. If we have to tolerate a few environmental offsets to gain the recreational advantages the Narrows Reservoir will offer, it’s a worthwhile trade-off in my mind. These recreation facilities will serve the public interests well.
I strongly urge the Corps of Engineers to issue a permit for the Narrows Project to be built, the way it is presently proposed.
Greg Soter is a resident of Orem, Utah, with ancestral roots in Mt. Pleasant and Fairview. The thoughts expressed in this letter are the opinions he has developed over numerous years involvement with the Narrows Project.