Tom Clyde: Unusual problems
April 25, 2014
Friends are often envious of my bucolic life on the farm. Long days outside, communing with nature. It all seems so peaceful. And for the most part, it is. But every now and then, nature is in no mood to be communed with. I’ve got beaver problems. Upstream of my property, on land owned by all the descendants of a very prolific family for more generations than I can count, there is a beaver colony covering about 10 acres. It’s pond after pond, each cascading into the one below, while the beaver endlessly build additional stories on the upstream end. The beaver spent the winter jacked-up on crystal meth, and have done some big-time breeding and dam building.
The end result, other than a very pretty aquatic habitat for just about every creature you’d care to name, is that the Provo River is preparing to wash down the wrong side of a dike and take out a bridge. That puts it pretty squarely through the kitchen of a rental house I have on the ranch. The tenant has been there for years, and is ripe for an episode of "Hoarders." A good flood is not without benefits. But in the long run, it’s probably best if the house and a couple of farm buildings aren’t floating in the Jordanelle.
The obvious solution is a judiciously placed stick of dynamite. We do not live in a world where "obvious" equates to "easy." The dike belongs to the Feds, managed by an irrigation company. The beaver are afforded a variety of legal protections, and must be read their Miranda warning, each individually, before being deported to the great pond in the sky. There once were spotted frogs in the ponds, so blowing the dam would require the approval of the state and federal frog wranglers.
I’ve got the Bureau of Reclamation, Central Utah Water District, Provo River Water Users, two branches of the State’s Department of Fish and Feathers (who don’t speak to each other), and UDOT involved in one way or another. They speak with a unified voice: "Somebody else really needs to fix this. Fast." Meanwhile the water is rising.
In the end, Provo River Water Users agreed that the dike is theirs, and that if it isn’t holding the river in the right place, like somewhere other than the kitchen, they will have to deal with it. I got a permit to reincarnate the beaver, and found a trapper who will snorkel out there to set the traps. Nothing is solved, but there is a path.
Speaking of troublesome varmints, it’s corporate annual report time. If you have stock in an IRA or otherwise, you know the drill. You get a "proxy statement" that is impenetrable legalese, a shiny annual report that says they are the greatest company in the world, and a ballot where you can vote your 100 shares in favor or against the election of the board of directors you know nothing about. Now there is also a non-binding vote on executive compensation. Most of the annual report is an attempt to justify what the CEO is being paid.
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Just for example, let’s take Conoco. It’s a well-run company, pays a descent dividend, and the stock price doesn’t gyrate. The CEO, a bald, doughy-looking man named Ryan M. Lance, is paid $24 million a year. Well, actually, it’s a little less than that, but what’s a half million among friends. Mr. Lance looks like the daffy plumber in any of a dozen TV sitcoms. He went to college in Butte, Montana, and is 51 years old. He looks a lot older — but on $2 million a month, he can’t afford a gym membership.
While I was in the thick of trying to solve the beaver problem, I kept wondering what I would do with $2 million a month. Besides hiring somebody else to deal with the beaver dam. Lance apparently spends $95,000 on home security. I think he is getting taken on that one. Anybody with a TV knows you can get a better deal than that. Home Depot has some systems that cost almost nothing. I’m sure he pays a good bit in taxes, despite having the company accountants at his disposal to minimize that. So a little here, a little there, and the poor man has to survive on a take-home of not much better than $1 million a month. He probably has to mow his own lawn. His wife takes in ironing.
If I really put my mind to it, and maybe hired a bunch of drunks to help, I doubt I could burn through a million bucks in a year. And he has to find something to do with it every month.
No wonder the rich feel picked on.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.