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The bell has sounded for another round in the fight for Sevier and Millard counties to withdraw from the Central Utah Project.

After believing they had an agreement that was satisfactory to the counties and the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, the district board wants the counties to give up the tax money they have paid into the project.Sevier County officials note that the CUP Completion Act, passed by the Congress in 1992, allows for withdrawal and specifies tax money in the project be returned, except amounts used for administration and local projects. The act doesn't become effective until Nov. 1, however.

The counties have received some benefits on a smaller scale than the CUP project, such as dam repairs and water studies.

In the last round of the withdrawal battle, an agreement - in concept - was drafted through the combined efforts of the water district's staff and the two county attorneys, Don Brown in Sevier and LeRay Jackson in Millard. It would allow the counties to withdraw and receive the tax-money rebates through deferred payments over several years.

For instance, it was suggested 1994 taxes be rebated to the counties by March 1, 1996. Subsequent payments would be made by March 1 in 1998, 2001 and 2004 but they would include interest.

The district board advanced another compromise, suggesting the tax money paid by the Intermountain Power Agency for the gigantic plant near Delta be divided among the five southern Utah counties in the CUP. The money was to be used as matching funds for local projects.

But Millard County balked at that suggestion.

Sanpete, Piute and Garfield counties don't want to withdraw from the project, but if Sevier and Millard do, the other three may not be able to stay in the CUP.

That's because officials believe necessary agreements for complicated water transfers between lower and upper Sevier River Basin water users would be difficult, if not impossible.

Also, Sevier County's tax accounting doesn't jibe with the figures of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.

Brown said a report by the district shows about $1.7 million has been collected from Sevier County in water-district taxes, but the attorney claims the amount is almost $2.3 million.

"The county (Sevier) is willing to give the water district the benefit of its errors in math," Brown said. But he strongly emphasized "that is the maximum concessions the county is willing to give."

Otherwise, the fight could get nastier, perhaps even going to litigation. "We're looking at adversarial proceedings," Brown said.

Many farmers, other water users and the two county commissions believe the amount spent for CUP water is far too expensive for what will be received. Furthermore, they have been paying taxes into the project for about 25 years, and it is projected that water wouldn't be delivered to the Sevier Basin for at least 13 years.

Voters in Sevier and Millard counties overwhelmingly supported referendums by way of the ballot box last fall, supporting county commissions to proceed with withdrawing from the Central Utah project.