Twice every day, some 250 cows make their way from the lush pastures along McCloud Creek and across U-224 to the Osguthorpe barn to be milked.
For the past 45 years, the Osguthorpe family has operated a dairy along the busy highway leading from Silver Creek Junction to Park City. That highway - currently being expanded from two lanes to four - now threatens to put the Osguthorpes out of the dairy business once and for all."There is nothing more conducive to good milk cows than a stream of fresh water," said D.A. Osguthorpe, the owner of the property. "Without the water from the stream, it would cause irreparable damage."
The Utah Department of Transportation, in complying with provisions of the Clean Water Act, is trying to purchase land along McCloud Creek, fence it off and return it to a pristine condition.
That, says Osguthorpe, will put him out of the dairy business - something he's not going to let happen without a fight.
On the surface it appears to be a straightforward case of government bureaucracy stepping all over the rights of the common man. But in reality, it is a complex controversy.
As crews widen the road, they cut into pasture lands along McCloud Creek that have been designated by the Environmental Protection Agency as critical "wetlands." Provisions of the Clean Water Act specify that the destruction of wetlands, regardless of whether or not they are on private property, must be replaced by new wetlands or that existing wetlands must be "enhanced."
The law was passed to halt the rapid depletion of the nation's wetlands - lands critical to the nation's water and wildlife needs.
In the Summit County case, highway crews will destroy about 8.5 acres of wetlands as they widen the highway. Rather than create a new wetland, UDOT chose theoption of acquiring 15 acres of existing wetlands and then bringing them up to federal standards.
"The only place (along the U-224 route) to logically enhance wetlands is the Osgu-thorpe property," said UDOT director Gene Findlay.
Enhancing the wetlands, in this case, would not be expensive. According to the agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency, if UDOT simply fenced the stream so cows could not pollute it or destroy vegetation along the banks, that would be enhancement enough.
Osguthorpe is furious. "Why wasn't I invited to participate in the meetings where these decisions were made?" he asks. "It's wrong. They will force me off the creek and will destroy my dairy operation. And they chose the most expensive way to do it."
Osguthorpe recently took his case to two legislative interim committees, both of which voted unanimously to encourage UDOT to reconsider the decision to route U-224 through Osguthorpe's wetlands.
Army Corp of Engineers and UDOT officials have since met with Osguthorpe to negotiate further, but no progress has been made. Nor does it appear UDOT or the federal government will back off from the earlier decision.
Findlay said it is a matter of how best to spend taxpayer money.
"I come from a small dairy farm in Idaho," Findlay said. "That he would be prevented from using his dairy farm really hits me in the chest. I would fight it tooth and nail, too.
"But as the director, I must look at how we can most economically get people to and from Park City. Somehow it has to happen for the greater public good. I hate to see it happen, but it must."
Engineers have studied the option recommended by Osguthorpe that the highway be routed along a bench area behind the farm house away from the wetlands. But Findlay said that re-routing would cost between $1.5 million and $1.85 million more than keeping the highway on its existing course.
While that route would not impact wetlands to the same extent (by about 50 percent), some wetlands along McCloud Creek would still be affected, forcing the state to acquire additional wetlands, anyway.
Findlay is opposed to rerouting the highway for a number of other reasons: UDOT has a hard-fought agreement with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corp of Engineers to build the road along the current route and enhance existing wetlands. The EPA had wanted the state to do far more in terms of wetland mitigation than what it has agreed to.
To reroute the highway would cancel that agreement, forcing the state to start over in the federal permitting process _ something that will extend construction costs and time over several more months.
Osguthorpe says he may be willing to sell the property to the state if he is offered a fair price. But so far, the $14,500-an-acre offer is nowhere close to a fair price. "I sold 40 acres of land not nearly as good for $50,000 an acre," he said
Findlay said UDOT has not made Osguthorpe a specific offer for the land, but said the land would be worth between $14,500 and $45,000 _ the lesser figure for farm land and the higher figure if it were land being developed for residential or commercial purposes. Land on either side of the Osguthorpe property is selling for $20,000-to-$45,000 an acre.
"In a state where 79 percent of the land is owned by government, we have to protect what private property we have left," responded Osguthorpe. "There is so little farm ground anyway."