Scouts settle for $6.5 million
May 19, 2007
The Boy Scouts of America will pay $6.5 million to settle a lawsuit filed against the group by the U.S. Attorney’s Office to recover costs for fighting a forest fire that scorched more than 14,000 acres in the Uinta Mountains in 2002.
"Such wildfires not only devastate the landscape of Utah, but jeopardize lives and property as well," U.S. Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman said in a press release.
Boys around the age of 14 from a Scout troop in Peoa were blamed for starting the East Fork Fire near the Christmas Meadows campground in Summit County.
The federal government originally sought nearly $13 million in damages when they sued the Boy Scouts in 2003. The Mormon church was named as a defendant but later dismissed from the case.
Having reached the compromise, the parties have asked U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell to dismiss the case, according to the press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
"This office takes seriously its responsibility to protect public lands for the use of all citizens, including Utah’s majestic national forest," Tolman states. "Our responsibility also includes recovering, for the benefit of all taxpayers, the millions of dollars expended to suppress wildfires intentionally or negligently caused no matter who is responsible."
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The stipulation for dismissal of the case, which requires a signature from Campbell, was filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court.
"We’re excited that it’s come to a conclusion," said Kay Godfrey, a spokesman for the Boy Scouts of America Great Salt Lake Council, which along with the LDS church, sponsored the boys suspected of starting the blaze.
The settlement was negotiated over the course of more than a year, he added in a telephone interview Thursday.
"The payment for the suit does not come from funds locally," Godfrey said. "Not from any donated dollars, any Friends of Scouting (or) any gifts to Scouting here locally."
Insurance held by the national office of the Boy Scouts, in Texas, will cover the expense, he explained.
"The constituents out there that donate to Scouting understand that their dollars stay local," Godfrey said.
The federal government and state officials filed separate lawsuits against the Boy Scouts of America after the East Fork Fire was discovered June 28, 2002, near the East Fork of the Bear Scout Reservation and the Mirror Lake Highway.
"We have really initiated an awful lot of things in an effort to prevent this from happening again," Godfrey said. "We’re better prepared now than we’ve ever been."
The group is emphasizing two-deep leadership and stressing that their supervisors must be at least 21 years old.
"In this particular case, with this fire, numerous changes have taken place," Godfrey said, adding that the requirement to build a fire in the woods to obtain a wilderness survival merit badge was removed.
To settle the lawsuit filed by the state, the Boy Scouts this year agreed to pay $330,000 and plant more than 9,000 trees on land that was burned. Originally state officials sued the group for more than $600,000.