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Tooele, neighbors at odds

City ready to fight cities’ lawsuit over base closure funds

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TOOELE — A lawsuit over a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) deal with the Army could become a political wedge between Tooele city and governments in the Tooele and Rush valleys.

After months of threats, Grantsville, along with the towns of Stockton, Ophir, Rush Valley and Vernon, filed suit in 3rd District Court late last month for a share of the BRAC proceeds taken by Tooele in 1999. The deal transferred 1,700 acres of former Tooele Army Depot property, now a private industrial development, to Tooele's Redevelopment Agency (RDA).

Tooele City Attorney Roger Baker called the suit "extremely divisive and unproductive." He expects the city will issue an "aggressive" response through a Salt Lake-based law firm.

"The city does not intend to be bullied by politics and an incorrect interpretation of the facts and history," Baker said.

Tooele's take on history goes back to 1994 and the formation of the Tooele County Economic Development Corporation, which along with Tooele city and its RDA are named as defendants in the suit. All affected municipalities were to attend meetings on how to handle the deal with the Army. Baker, who began as city attorney in 1995, said everyone else except Tooele stopped coming to the meetings.

"They think Tooele should have been Big Brother, watching out for everybody else," Baker said. A filing cabinet full of BRAC documents, he added, does not support such a claim. "Tooele's RDA was the only entity interested in assuming the risk with the property."

When the deal was complete in January 1999, Tooele made $15 million in cash, which it banked and then began drawing interest from to pay for a new city hall, library, golf course clubhouse and animal shelter. The city is also taking in $5 million worth of in-kind considerations, mostly for road improvements at the depot, from Depot Associates, the private developer in charge of leasing land and about 250 existing buildings at the Utah Industrial Depot.

Grantsville Mayor Merle Cole and Stockton Mayor Barry Thomas were not in office when BRAC meetings first started. Cole said "the thing just faded away." Other municipalities just began dropping out, he said.

"We just want to go back and do it right," Cole said, not naming figures at this point. "Obviously there's a lot there or (Tooele) wouldn't be building new buildings. . . . Until there's a full accounting, it's hard to say what we're asking for."

"I'm not quite sure how all the pieces fit together," added Thomas. The deal with the Army was supposed to have affected all political entities in the "base community," Cole said.

Part of the risk Tooele took that no other city took, said Baker, was to assume responsibility for providing a long list of city services to the industrial depot indefinitely. "That's a factor that's been overlooked."

E-MAIL: sspeckman@desnews.com