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Developers envision corporate retreat at Strawberry

Published July 2, 2012 12:33 pm

Proposal • Roads and water among issues that may keep Strawberry Ranch from becoming reality.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Heber City • Burke Roney has a dream of bringing families together at a 7,000-acre development of cabins, lodges, nature centers and a working cattle ranch near Soldier Creek Dam on Strawberry Reservoir.

But Roney faces numerous obstacles before his dream can become a reality, and cabin owners already in the area say his dream may quash theirs.

Roney envisions Strawberry Ranch as a setting for family reunions and corporate retreats — a place where businesses can hold meetings yet allow employees to bring their families to play during the day before rejoining them in the evening.

"The thing that sets this apart from other similar developments in Wasatch County is that it isn't for the superwealthy," Roney said. "Those places are beautiful and wonderful, but most people don't get to participate in that world."

The Strawberry Ranch plan proposes 558 cabins, 143 recreational vehicle sites and 10 lodges/centers. Roney and project engineer Paul Berg say 93.5 percent of the 7,000 acres will remain open space.

Those numbers do not feel like open space to the Nelson brothers. The Nelsons for three decades have owned a lot at 40 Dam Acres — a 20-lot subdivision only accessible in the summer — on the northern edge of Strawberry Ranch near Aspen Grove campground.

"With a development of that size and of that scope, you just can't have the serenity and other things that we came here for," said Wayne Nelson, president of 40 Dam Acres. "That kind of a development is basically a city and we have our places here to get away from the city."

Nelson worries a Wasatch County Council eager to create tax revenue and jobs might allow the Strawberry Ranch development to proceed before all the requirements are met.

Concerns about the development emerged after Berg made a presentation and answered questions at a recent Wasatch County Council meeting in Heber.

Of major concern is whether Roney can provide vehicle access and water to the project.

Forest Service Road 090 would provide primary access to the property, with the exception of the portion that runs over Soldier Creek Dam. The Bureau of Reclamation (BOR) controls that portion of road.

Wayne Pullan, BOR deputy area manager in Provo, made it clear at the meeting that developers cannot count on the portion of road running over the dam as a primary access route.

"Public safety is our largest concern," Pullan said. "We need to be certain we can work on that dam when we need to and protect it from any security risk."

There is no current reason to work on the dam, but a security issue could arise at any time.

"In the post 9/11 world, dams have become security concerns just like a lot of other infrastructure," Pullan said. "We can't buy into any arrangement that limits our ability to protect the safety and security of the dam."

If the dam access issue cannot be worked out, Berg said they would pursue a $3 million plan to build an alternate road below the dam with a bridge across the Strawberry River.

The developers also would be required to provide emergency secondary access, which Berg said hinges on their ability to build a short road across Forest Service land. Berg said he is working with the Forest Service on that access.

Officials from other interested agencies such as the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, U.S. Forest Service and Division of Water Quality, as well as concerned citizens, also questioned the development.

Bob Leake, a Utah Division of Water Rights engineer, asked Berg why he hasn't heard from him regarding exactly which water rights the development owns.

Berg said he felt they were "close enough" on water rights to proceed with development plans, but he realized the final numbers may be less than the 458.50 acre-feet required to support the development as proposed. That may be one reason initial plans that included a golf course appear to have been abandoned.

Roney, however, is not giving up on his dream.

"There are still many steps to go through with Wasatch County and the Bureau of Reclamation," Berg said. "We understand we are closer to the beginning of the process than the end."

brettp@sltrib.com Strawberry Ranch plan

The proposed Strawberry Ranch development in Wasatch County, south of Soldier Creek Dam on Strawberry Reservoir, includes:

Cabins • 558

Lots • 298

Recreational vehicle sites •143

Lodges/centers •10

Camping, fishing, backpacking, biking, shooting, ATV riding, horseback riding and more would be available.

Source • Berg Engineering