ROOSEVELT Two men with property in the Ouray Park Water Improvement District have filed a federal lawsuit against a member of the district's governing board, claiming he has violated their civil rights.
David Yeaman and Gene Brown are suing Ouray Park Water Board member Alan Cooper for a combined $2.1 million in punitive damages. The men claim Cooper has violated their rights to due process and equal protection under the law, as well as slandering them and interfering with their ability to develop their property.
In a 15-page complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, Yeaman, owner of the Four Star Ranch near Pelican Lake in Uintah County, and Brown accuse Cooper of denying them the water connections they needed to develop a gravel pit, an RV park and a commercial man-camp on their respective properties.
"Cooper possesses a clear and absolute bias against residential and commercial development in the area and has openly and blatantly used his public position as a trustee to prevent and discourage the improvement of water resources and development," Yeaman and Brown state in their suit.
The men also claim that Cooper is biased against nonresidents of the Uinta Basin and individuals who are not members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Yeaman is a Park City resident. Brown is not a member of the LDS Church. The men further allege that Cooper has made public statements that "he has been called by God to limit growth in the area" and has "received ecclesiastical direction to limit growth."
Cooper, who had not yet been served with a copy of the lawsuit when contacted by the Deseret News, laughed at the allegations that he was doing the Lord's work as a member of the water board.
"I'm not that close to God," he said. "I haven't had any revelations yet."
Cooper said one of the incidents cited in the lawsuit a refusal to sell Brown eight water connections after he had paid the district $24,000 is misrepresented. He said Brown did pay the money but failed to apply to the district for the connections.
"They're just disgruntled because of some decisions the board has made," Cooper said. "That's the beginning and the end of it."
In their complaint, Yeaman and Brown claim that the water board granted connections to "longtime residents of the Uinta Basin and LDS members" shortly after returning Brown's money and denying him the eight connections he had sought in order to put a temporary man-camp on his property to house oil and gas workers.
"There were some individuals who did apply correctly, and they did receive connections," Cooper confirmed. "One of those individuals is not a member of the LDS Church, and he's not even a resident of the Uinta Basin. That kind of blows that one out, too."
In addition to their complaints that Cooper kept them from getting water hookups, Yeaman and Brown assert in their suit that Cooper has made false statements to county and state officials that stopped them from developing their land.
Cooper said the three-person water board is in the process of hiring a new attorney to help it address the complaints made by Yeaman and Brown. He said he has no opposition to growth in the area that the district serves, but he wants the growth to be responsible."One of the problems we have right now is ... the connections that are out there are reaching the limits of what we have as far as our (water) contract with the Ute Tribe," Cooper said, adding later, "We can't do anything until we get water."