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(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Deer along South Center Street in Dutch John, Thursday, March 20, 2014.
Dutch John — a Utah town fishing for a future

Northeastern Utah hamlet, spawned by dam construction and sustained by government aid, faces life on its own

First Published Mar 30 2014 01:01 am • Last Updated Mar 31 2014 09:46 am

Dutch John » This Daggett County hamlet has been misunderstood from the start.

Area residents coined the name in the 1860s because immigrant John Honselena wintered his horses on the flats where the community now sits.

At a glance

A History of Dutch John

The Bureau of Reclamation put eight transit houses and 25 trailers on a flat near the construction site for Flaming Gorge Dam in 1957.

A bunkhouse, cookhouse, mess hall, hospital and schoolhouse were also eventually added. As many as 3,500 workers lived in Dutch John at the peak of construction, which was completed in 1964.

The site was transferred to Daggett County in 1999, but the county received annual federal checks to fund public services until 2013.

Efforts to incorporate Dutch John are now being pursued and a feasibility study is underway.

Sources: “A History of Daggett County: A Modern Frontier” by Michael W. Johnson with Robert E. Parson and Daniel A. Stebbins; U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation.

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Honselena, as it turns out, was German, not Dutch.

The name stuck in 1957, when Bureau of Reclamation officials began preparing to raise Flaming Gorge Dam on the Green River by building living quarters for workers on the same spot.

The dam was completed in 1964, but the community remained — albeit with fewer residents — and became a town reliant on federal support in a state wary of the national government.

But the last check arrived in February 2013. And although Dutch John was warned in 1998 to get ready, it didn’t.

"From the very beginning we knew we had 15 years. That was good and bad," said John Morton, who works at the dam and has been living in Dutch John since 1991.

"We knew we had time, but it seemed like a long ways off so people didn’t feel in a hurry," he said. "The people in town reacted OK and started to consider plans, but I don’t think the county had the best plan."

Dutch John today is a quiet home for Bureau of Reclamation workers at the dam, U.S. Forest Service employees, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologists and law enforcement officers, along with fly-fishing guides.

Visitors are almost assuredly there to fly-fish on the Green River, though a growing number use Dutch John as a base for fishing trips on Flaming Gorge Reservoir.

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But the community and county officials are clashing over Dutch John’s future.

"This is a pretty nice spot in the world," said Dutch John resident Dave McDonald, who is leading a bid for the community to incorporate. "The end of the federal fund need not be the end of Dutch John."

From the county’s standpoint, "we want Dutch John to succeed," said Brian Raymond, Daggett County’s economic development director. "We have tried to do things to make it a success. Some people over there have a different definition of success."

The money » The government continued to own Dutch John and pay its bills for decades after the dam was built. Residents leased the homes or land they lived on, and no one pursued new development.

The federal parenting started to end in 1998 as a new law described how the community would transition to stand on its own. Utah Republican Sens. Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch sponsored the Dutch John Federal Property Disposition and Assistance Act.

It gave 2,450 acres in and around the community to Daggett County to serve as tax base for revenue to carry Dutch John into the future.

For 15 years, the law said, the Upper Colorado River Basin Fund would send an annual payment of $300,000 (with adjustments based on the Consumer Price Index) for basic community services.

Daggett County got the first check in 1999. For years the annual contribution was used sparingly to provide basic services in Dutch John, said Morton, who helped draft the act and testified before Congress. He serves on the county’s Dutch John Advisory Committee and as the community’s fire chief.

The federal money was "only spent when it was absolutely necessary," Morton said. "The idea was we would build it up and have this fund at the end of 15 years, so if we didn’t have a tax base, we could live off the interest."

But the fund was tapped to support the Daggett County Jail in 2008, the first time the Dutch John fund was used for something other than the community’s needs, Morton said.

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