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Reader comment: Minidoka County should preserve its farmland

gary Schorzman

William “Gary” Schorzman

Our Village of Rupert became the City of Rupert and was the pride of every citizen, now many citizens. The citizens of Rupert are not the only ones who claim a tight connection; it is the farmers who do business in the City of Rupert as well.

Many businesses came and went, but Rupert, what has been called a “Bedroom” community still serves a purpose for all living here. Tranquility of neighborhoods, where in the Fall one can still burn leaves and in the Spring plant gardens.

The Water Tower, since 1912 has been a beacon for miles around for those looking to see where Rupert (our town) is. For years and years the siren would sound itself at noon for all to know it was dinner time. Supper was called the evening meal then. The only other reason the siren went off was when there was a fire somewhere. It is a beacon which has been saved from demolition.

Rupert first called “Wellfirst”, because the Bureau of Reclamation had dug a well to supply water for the men and horses laying out canals, the railroad and surveyors. Almost immediately in 1904 it became a gathering place for all including the men and women arriving to claim a homestead on the Minidoka Project.

Minidoka Dam began construction in November of 1904, which would supply water for this new irrigation (gravity flow) project. All of the land designated for homesteading with water rights were taken by January of 1905.

The understanding was that all water created by Minidoka Dam would be partitioned to these new homesteads to be used only for the purpose of agricultural use. (The land could not be used for purposes other than growing crops.) Acequia, Rupert, Heyburn and eventually Paul all sit in the center of this great agricultural experiment.

Cassia County was not included with the exception of the 3 Lifts created to farm on that side of the Snake River. Milner Dam was created in 1903 for the Twin Falls tract. Later the A & B Irrigation project was started with different restrictions, which came out of the underground water system for the Veterans who drew a farm with their name out of a squirrel cage. (August 3, 1953).

Through the years Rupert and many of its residents, including local farmers have touted that we are nothing like the people in the big cities i.e.: not preserving landmarks and historical history. However, we have not adhered to the principals which we aspire.

A- The first brick grade school known as Lincoln school was torn down with a wrecking ball.

B—The first all electric heated and lit high school built in 1913 was torn down with a wrecking ball.

C—The Caledonian hotel was demolished and remains a vacant lot.

D—The Band stand with seating for 26 instruments was removed and replaced with a fountain.

E—The Rodeo “Grandstand” was moved to farm land, now designated for the Rodeo and Fairgrounds.

With influx of thousands of people to the “Northside Project”, Rupert had to grow.

One of the great changes was the demise of the Hunter Ranch, which was to become home to the First Christian Church and the Minidoka Memorial Hospital. He had the right to sell his property as he saw fit, for profit. Now a portion of the land is called Brighton Point.

To the south of the Hospital on 8th Street came a brand new community with the latest architecture of beautiful homes built on curved streets, that could have come right off a magazine cover. Mary Lipps-Jones (homesteader) had the right to sell her property to advance the growth of Rupert.

The school district decided on “consolidation” of all schools to one which was to become Minico for high school students. The 7th and 8th graders were brought to Rupert High schools addition known as Washington.

The point here is that now (2021) our town has taken the notion that it can grow more with the addition of subdivisions or housing project, because it has too or because it can.

Every man and woman has the right to do what they want with their own property. However, I maintain that if you want to sell your farm land – sell it to another farmer, not a developer! This sounds too simple, but it is not. Every individual must decide what kind of town and bordering farm land do we want to live in or near? (Florida has saved their farm land.)

We as people of Minidoka County have given the power to those who would respect the law and make sometimes very difficult decisions now about our county, just as decisions 100 years ago were made. Today is different and it is not business as usual anymore.

One instance in 1905, early on just as we were becoming a plot of land with a water well would become Rupert was surrounded with businesses. But technically they were squatters on government land. One man, by the name of Masterson had his business on the north side of the square. One day he decided, on his own that he should move his building which was on “skids” across the street and face north. This was the first building on what was the square and housed the water well.

Several other business men thought this was a bad idea. They visioned that one day that square would be covered in grass and shade trees. They made their case to Mr. Masterson and offered him $6- to not set a precedent for the square to be covered with business establishments, but to leave it for the future generations that one day would enjoy the dirt square as a place to come to and visit by all. What great foresight these men had for our square which they would never see it as we do today. He moved his business back across the street to the north side and faced south once again.

Today, the Minidoka Irrigation District took over from the Bureau of Reclamation. The original intent for this Irrigation Project was to supply water, with gravity flow, to this sagebrush land and turn it into a land of abundance. Once the Minidoka Dam was constructed water flowed by way of constructed canals from one end of the project to the other. This also included the 3 Lifts supplying water from the south side canal and under the protection of the Bureau of Reclamation.

In 1910, private enterprise along with the railroad decided they would like to extend a branch line from Burley to Salt Lake City. The railroad was built to Declo and on to Idahome. A town called Lovett was established and a huge railroad-turn-around was established at Idahome. A railroad “burm” was built south to a now defunct town of Strevell.

A problem arose when they Bureau of Reclamation questioned the railroad as to how it was they could build across Bureau land? The land within this irrigation project was to be used only for growing crops. The railroad lost the case and a million dollar investment was voided.

So, when did the Bureau of Reclamation, now MID-Minidoka Irrigation District, give up their power as to how land with water rights for growing crops could be given up for other investments? It appears that even our County Commissioners do not have the will to save our farm land?

These new investments taking over our farm land can only come with the blessings of the “Planning and Zoning Commission” for Minidoka County’s farm land? This is not a question as to whether the land taken out of production will have the water rights paid for!

Once the pavement has been poured, that bean and sugar beet land can never be reclaimed! After all with current production we still have the largest Sugar Factory in the world. Every acre of land lost, could spell the demise of our Sugar Beet industry!

We are developing Minidoka County so fast that it would seem that we are in an “armed race”? A race that will soon incorporate Rupert, Paul and Heyburn as one entity, governed by one. Who knows what a great new number of citizens will want for all of us? Can there be such a thing as a “Moratorium” on building on farm land?

The Chamber of Commerce once was housed in each town for the benefit of its own community. The Chamber is a great institution, but as one member, whose name shall remain private, voted and campaigned heavily for the consolidation of the Chamber of Commerce with Burley/Cassia County. He later, on many occasions has said that it was a mistake and it took something very valuable away from our little town!

Governing a town in a county which is growing as fast as Rupert, Heyburn and Paul has to take on many new factions and ramifications for the lifestyle we have enjoyed. The County Commissioners, MID and the Planning and Zoning Commission are going to have to tackle new problems, including what is morally right for our land. Ultimately it will be up to the County Commissioners and Rupert’s governing body just how far we are all willing to go!

Gary Schorzman is a Rupert resident and has written several local history books.

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