Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, Tuesday accused Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, of endangering the completion of the Central Utah Project.
In a telephone interview, Garn said conservation, hunting and fishing groups who held a news conference attacking his stance on the CUP reauthorization did not do their homework.Owens is out of phase with the rest of the Utah congressional delegation and Gov. Norm Bangerter, Garn added. The entire Utah congressional delegation, including Owens, "agreed weeks ago on the vast majority of the reauthorization bill," he said.
"We do disagree on whether we should have a permanently funded separate (wildlife protection) commission after the construction period," he said. Owens' version of the CUP reauthorization bill differs from Garn's in that it would continue such a commission, working to mitigate the project's fish and wildlife damage, after the construction project is complete.
"And so it bothers me a little bit when they start blowing it out of all proportion," Garn said. "If they want to dump all over me, that is fine. But there are also three other members of the Utah delegation and the governor" who agree on Garn's position.
"Owens is the outside guy on this one."
During his 13 years in the Senate, Garn said, this is the first time major disagreement has surfaced among the delegation about the CUP. In that time, he said, he worked with several Democrats, such as former Sen. Frank E. Moss and former Govs. Calvin L. Rampton and Scott M. Matheson.
"We have always been united. So it is not me that is endangering the Central Utah Project, it is Congressman Owens by his sole insistence on continuing the commission after completion of the project."
Why not continue the commission's work after the dams are built and the canals are lined? "The issue is not over mitigation, it is how it is funded and who controls the mitigation fund," Garn responded.
He said after the CUP is built, state and federal wildlife agencies are equipped to continue the mitigation work. With these agencies in place, "we do not need to create a new commission in perpetuity with $15 million funding."
People who spoke at the news conference "haven't done their homework," he charged. This is not a new issue, he said.
Garn said the differences between the two proposals is small, only concerning the narrow questions of how the commission is funded and who controls it.