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Saying that the proj-ect could irreparably damage the state's largest fruit-growing area, Farm Bureau officials and a noted horticulturist have joined the protest against a proposed sewage lagoon in an orchard.

In February, the Santaquin City Council unanimously approved a resolution empowering the city to begin condemning property owned by Ricki Rowley and Dick and Dale Saunders for a $5 million sewage system, which voters approved last year in a bond election.The new system will replace the city's current septic-tank system.

City officials say that because the orchard land will provide necessary elevation to install a natural flow system, obtaining the land for a lagoon site will allow them to significantly reduce the cost of the project.

However, both Utah Farm Bureau Federation and Utah State University Extension Services say the land is critical to fruit growers because of its elevation - which gives farmers the precise airflow needed to keep frosts off their trees. Should the project proceed, the city would install 15-foot dikes to contain the lagoon, and those berms could seriously impede the airflow - as well as fruit farming, said Paul Larsen, vice president of USU Extension Services.

Larsen, also a horticulturist, said that site selection and airflow in and around orchards, "as well as the soil and water quality that go with the site, are the two most important factors in determining the success of an orchard."

"The value of the land in the Santaquin area for orchards is a proven fact. There are precious few acres left in all of Utah, let alone Utah County, that are suitable for orchards."

Dick Burr, president of the Utah County Farm Bureau and also a fruit farmer, said previous municipal actions have forced farmers to move and that city officials have other viable alternatives to the system, including a possible connection to Payson's wastewater treatment plant.

"We protest this entire action, especially when other alternatives, such as the connection to the Payson system, exist," Burr said. "We will do everything in our power to see that one of these options is implemented."

C. Booth Wallentine, Utah Farm Bureau Federation executive vice president, said the farmers and officials are not trying to make things difficult for the city but are protesting to protect the valley's fruit industry, which annually yields more than $10 million in profits.

"There are numerous court cases on record awarding large judgments against government agencies for this kind of a taking," Wallentine said. Already, the farmers have retained the services of Salt Lake attorney Bill Thurman should a lawsuit against the city be required.

Wallentine, though, said he and the farmers do not oppose the idea of a sewer system. In fact, he said he plans to go to Washington, D.C., to help city officials keep their funding sources - bonds from both state and federal agencies.

"We're not out to get them to stop building a sewer system," Wallentine said. "We're just opposed to where they want to place it. Otherwise, we'll help (city officials) any way we can."