Groups who say the Central Utah Project should be reassessed are shocked that they've received a cold shoulder from two Utah lawmakers.
"We didn't expect to be called names and attacked," said Sam Rushforth, one of the group's representatives. "We believed we were doing a very responsible thing. This document contains well-documented facts and legitimate questions." A coalition of environmental, outdoor and conservation groups has raised the issue.But Sen. Jake Garn and Rep. Howard Nielson, both R-Utah, called the group "Johnny-come-latelies" who are bringing up issues that have been "studied to death." Garn said the group's environmental attack was "deliberately timed to try to influence decisions within the (Utah) delegation," which is currently in the process of trying to come to a consensus on a bill seeking reauthorization for the project.
"For people who are elected to represent Utahns to respond in this manner is astounding," said Gary Bryner, a member of the consortium.
"Our timing is neither bad nor coincidental," Bryner said. "For years Utahns have been raising questions about the CUP, but our questions have fallen on deaf ears. With the exception of Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, no one in the Utah congressional delegation has been responsive to concerns that we need to protect our natural resources and environmental quality. Instead of railing against their constituents, the Utah delegation ought to welcome constructive criticism that may end up saving the Central Utah Project."
Rushforth said the group had hoped that following release of their document the Utah delegation would welcome the group's comments and want to work with them.
"Their response has precluded that possibility," Rushforth said.
The consortium has begun a letter-writing campaign aimed at other members of Congress and have offered to "go back and work with anyone who'd like to work with us," Rushforth said.
In particular, representatives of the 17 organizations included in the consortium are working with Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., chairmen of subcommittees responsible for the CUP and other projects. Both Miller and Bradley have criticized recent expenditures related to the CUP and have promised to scrutinize other project appropriations.
In a letter to Rushforth, Bradley called the group's review "a responsible and fair-minded statement of problems associated with the Central Utah Project and will contribute substantially to upcoming congressional debate."
Rushforth said group representatives will travel to Washington in the next month to work with members of Bradley's and Miller's staffs.
Rushforth said he also has been surprised by "overwhelming" support at the local level.