Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
WASHINGTON – Utah Republican Senators Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee unveiled legislation that would solve the plight of cabin owners around Carbon County's Scofield Reservoir considered "trespassers" by the federal government.
Despite years and years of generational ownership of the cabins and occupying the land, about 60 impacted residences in the Bolotas Subdivision were determined to lack clear title to the land, which the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said it still owned when it acquired it to build the dam in the 1940s.
A survey of the water's potential flood elevation prompted fears by the federal government that the structures could become dislodged by a severe flood and imperil the integrity of the spillway. Eviction notices became a real threat, legal battles ensued and soon local and state leaders became involved in the negotiations.
The result is the Scofield Land Transfer Act introduced Wednesday which allows the impacted cabin owners to buy the land they occupy at fair market value provided the government is held harmless from liability and certain property improvements are made. Those include securing or tying down the structures in case of flooding.
“This common-sense legislation ensures that the families who have owned homes around the reservoir for generations will not have to worry that their homes will be seized and destroyed by the government,” Hatch said. “Hopefully this legislation moves quickly and we can resolve this issue once and for all.”
Rep. Patrick Painter, R-Nephi, worked with land owners on the issue since 2009 and brought to the attention of the Utah legislature and Gov. Gary Herbert's office.
"I'm ecstatic about this bill," Painter said late Wednesday. "This has been a three year nightmare and it is good that we are going to have an opportunity to bring this to a conclusion...The most important thing is that folks are going to get clear title on their property."
Lee said the bill will provide the necessary protection for the cabin owners.
"This solution will ensure the affected residents of Carbon County are protected and their homes are not in jeopardy," Lee said.
Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, is planning on introducing identical legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
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