A bill to place, finally, the federally owned town of Dutch John into private hands passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday.
The town, population 175, was originally built to house nearly 2,000 workers who constructed the nearby Flaming Gorge Dam. In recent years, it has housed employees of the Bureau of Reclamation and the Forest Service.The bill would allow turning over the town to Daggett County and selling off most existing homes and buildings to private owners to allow development of new businesses - and maybe a new resort on Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
"The time has arrived to transfer the ownership and maintenance of this town to local hands," said Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, who is sponsoring the bill in the Senate.
"Keeping Dutch John federally owned is not only a tremendous burden on federal funds but a heavy restriction to citizens living there. This town is an anachronism, and an expensive one at that," he said.
Such a deal has been sought for several years but was stalled over arguments about how much the federal government should provide to tiny Daggett County through transition payments to take over maintenance of the town.
The federal government has been spending $900,000 a year to provide services ranging from water to firefighting, electricity and snow removal in the town.
Because Daggett County has only 700 residents, it worried that taking over such costs could bankrupt it.
In the bill, the federal government would pay Daggett $300,000 a year for 15 years to ensure it can cover such costs as it tries to develop a new tax base in the town. Daggett officials have said they could provide services with that amount of support.
Squabbles over such details - and others - seemed to be resolved only last week in a House hearing where Daggett and Clinton administration officials said they each finally agreed on terms.
The bill now goes to the full Senate. A sister version is also expected to soon come to a vote in the House Resources Subcommittee on Water and Power.