It's been less than a year since Tri-Valley Distributing in Heber City purchased the old Metro Hill gas station and announced plans to raze the building and construct a new Tri Mart Chevron convenience store, fast-food franchise and gas station.
Now Scott Cook, president of operations for Tri-Valley, says his company has no plans to do anything with the property because two gas stations owned by the Ute Indian Tribe in Fort Duchesne and Myton can sell gas more cheaply.Cook says because the tribal-owned service stations aren't charged the 24.5 cents per gallon state gasoline sales tax, it would be useless to try to compete.
"It wouldn't be to anybody's advantage to go in and put a ton of money into it and not be able to compete at a fair advantage," said Cook. "You can't compete when gas down the street is selling for so much cheaper."
But Brian Tarbet, assistant Utah attorney general, says that shouldn't be the case.
While enrolled Ute Tribe members and the Ute Tribe government (just as any other government) can take advantage of not having to pay the state tax on motor fuel, non-Indians don't get that same price break.
The question of whether the Ute Tribe gets a tax break on all motor fuel it purchases or just on that sold to tribal members and for government vehicles is "complex," said Tarbet.
The issue is being researched so it can be addressed when the state, tribe and Uintah and Duchesne counties meet later this month to discuss issues of common concern now that litigation over the exterior boundaries of the Ute reservation have ceased.
"That whole area of motor fuel tax is being looked at. We've had petroleum retailers call and ask about this situation. The tribe is working cooperatively with us," Tarbet said.
There are more questions than just motor fuel tax regulations that answers will be needed for, he said.
Some of the topics to be discussed and negotiated include taxation, environmental jurisdiction, law enforcement, hunting and fishing, planning and zoning, roads and rights of way.
"There are a lot of complicated issues, and we'd like to tidy up these issues at one time. We want to do it right the first time and get on with it. It's the people who are caught in the middle, the merchants, who don't know what they are expected to do who are hit the hardest. It's complicated."