Permit for military-style training camp on hold
August 20, 2010
ChamTech, a firm that has applied to open a military-style training camp in Sawmill Canyon east of Henefer and Echo, must prove it has access rights to the canyon road and local spring water before it can move forward.
That was the decision of the East Side Summit County Planning Commission on Wednesday after property owners adjacent to the 2,500 acres spent two and a half hours protesting the county planners’ recommendation to allow the camp.
Rancher Steve Peterson who owns property to the north of the site said riding his ATV through tall, dry grass has started several fires in the area. He believes a fire on the land eyed by ChamTech and owned by Tiny Woolstenhulme would be inevitable.
"Any fire in that area will get my cows," he said. "When I had a fire, from the time the fire is called in to when they arrived was six hours. I’ll have 200 dead cows."
Bryce Boyer, the state fire warden assigned to North Summit, said he has concerns over access, but not enough to dissuade the county planners’ recommendation.
"I think things can be mitigated," he said. "You and the applicants should be aware of the fire suppression costs so the responsible party will absorb that, not the county."
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Boyer said similar fires have cost $10 million to extinguish. Furthermore, if Echo Reservoir was needed to fill buckets from helicopters, it would require the closing of I-80.
Peterson also said ChamTech’s ATV’s would generate dust that would blow into his property.
"I bought it for a piece of serenity, now that’s changing," he said.
Ramona Hopkins, whose 40 acres is situated within the property, complained her neighbors haven’t granted her access to her property for 30 years. She, therefore, can’t ensure ChamTech stays off of it.
Hopkins isn’t granted access via the Sawmill Canyon Road because neighbors Dennis Wright, Leo Williams and Nadine Gilmore insist a 1983 Utah Supreme Court decision in their favor prohibits use of the road for any purpose other than ranching on properties directly adjacent to the road as it was designed for cutting lumber in the 19th century. Even though the road goes through her land now, it didn’t during the construction of the railroad in Echo Canyon.
Woolstenhulme said he will continue to graze cattle on his land, but the neighbors insist ChamTech’s commercial activity violates the court’s decision. There are no nearby residences.
The lawsuit was levied by Gilmore against one of her relatives who wanted to begin a commercial hunting enterprise. It took over 11 years and cost the plaintiffs more than the land was worth, Wright said.
"It’s personal to me," he said. "I’m gonna beg ya, I’m not gonna ask, I’m gonna beg ya have this county’s attorneys office read the Supreme Court decision."
Williams said the only way to access his property is on an ATV trail that will pass the sniper range.
Commissioner Tom Clyde said he is worried ChamTech wouldn’t be able to prevent neighbors from being shot at as they access the ATV trails. Any accidents involving clients would also require expensive action from emergency responders, he said, adding that he’d like to see a business plan from ChamTech to prove they could afford enough insurance for the cost of fire suppression.
Local historian Frank Cattelan expressed concern for the preservation of 4,000-year-old petroglyphs in Sawmill Canyon.
Henefer mayor Randy Ovard said people have stopped him in the street and at church since the previous week expressing concern.
"I encourage you to take a very, very serious look at this," he said.
County planner Kimber Gabryszak recommended granting the permit because the goal of ChamTech’s training is to teach students how to survive in the wilderness while having little impact on the environment and wildlife. Because the nature of the business would be low-impact, she said concerns over noise, pollution and danger were exaggerated.
ChamTech president Eric Hernandez said attendees will be screened and are professionals.
"They already have some kind of skill and the tactics associated with it. We’ll be refining their skills," he explained. "Being from the military, we know the environment keeps you safe. If the environment is damaged in any way, or if wildlife is damaged in any way, the enemy knows you’re there."
ChamTech CEO Anthony Sutera said he is familiar with the area and mountain safety. He previously lived in Coalville for four years and participated in numerous search and rescues in the Wasatch and Uinta Mountains.
Gabryszak said ChamTech’s ATVs would have fire extinguishers.
According to the applicants, the sniper shooting activity would be limited to about 20 shots a day at targets designed to capture the bullets and lead fragments. There will be no use of explosives, heavy guns or artillery.
Sutera told the commission he thought the level of scrutiny they were being subjected to was "overboard."
"We have a high level of professionalism," he said.
Sutera asked if teenagers in the hills on ATVs are scrutinized similarly for fire and public safety hazards.
"What about trespassing hunting parties?" he asked.
"I’ve been on hundreds of searches up here for people from Salt Lake City who had no training," Sutera said. "This is a professional organization. We want a fair shot at this. The scrutiny for this is a little strong."
Woolstenhulme also protested the dangerous characterization of the sniper range. He said hunters frequently trespass in the surrounding areas.
Regarding road access, Gabryszak said the county planners had a copy of the decision during Wednesday’s hearing, and did not conclude it prohibited ChamTech access. She said Friday the county attorneys are reviewing the case in greater detail to verify that conclusion.
There was also a concern for ChamTech’s right to park vehicles at the mouth of the canyon along the Echo Canyon frontage road. Gabryszak agreed that would need to be resolved but said Friday the impact would be minimal.
View Tiny Woolstenhulme’s property near Henefer in a larger map