Utah History Encyclopedia


By M. Guy Bishop
As a geological feature, the Kaiparowits Plateau in southern Utah's Kane County presents what geologist C.E. Dutton in 1880 designated as an "excellent example" of the ancient remnants of the state's topography. In 1869 the famed western explorer John Wesley Powell described the plateau as "long and narrow," fronted by "storm-carved cliffs" rising to an elevation of from 2,000 to 4,000 feet.

For many modern Utahns, however, the Kaiparowits Plateau is better known as the focal point of a heated confrontation between developers and preservationists rather than for its natural wonders. In mid-October 1965, nearly a hundred years after Major Powell's expedition viewed the plateau, William R. Gould, vice president of Southern California Edison, a Los Angeles-based utility company, stood below the towering cliffs of the Kaiparowits Plateau and announced to a gathering of representatives of local and state governmental agencies plans to construct a mammoth coal-fired power plant at Kaiparowits. The region had ample coal deposits to keep such a plant operating for several decades. So a consortium of energy producers in Los Angeles, San Diego, and Phoenix hoped to pool their resources to build a generating station which would guarantee an adequate supply of electrical power to the ever-growing urban Southwest.

Many of the Utahns who heard Gould outline these development goals were ecstatic. Southern Utah had long been plagued by poverty and isolation which had retarded the area's growth. Now hope of a better, more prosperous life was looming on the horizon. The Kaiparowits project (sometimes called the Kane County Project) was expected to bring a small army of scientists, engineers, and construction workers to Kane County. And this population increase would also bring an influx of much-needed money. Rural communities like Kanab, Henrieville, and Cannonville began to dream of a more prosperous existence.

Yet, ten years after the project was announced the consortium was still battling environmental interests which continuously pressured the federal government to safeguard the ecology and clean air of the region. As the fight dragged on and construction costs escalated, the vision of a mighty power plant in the wilderness of southern Utah and the anticipated wealth it would bring slowly vanished. For the utility companies as well as many of the residents of Kane County, Kaiparowits was quickly becoming a nightmare. Finally, in 1975, Southern California Edison decided to abandon the project, following years of frustrating battles with the Bureau of Land Management over environmental safeguards. The environmental movement, still sickened by the earlier loss of the natural beauties of Glen Canyon when the Colorado River was dammed, celebrated the decision to abort the power project on the Kaiparowits Plateau.