Mysterious Scientology vault project in Wyoming desert raising questions and ire
SWEENEY CANYON, Wyo. (AP) — The construction began last summer, stirring up dust that wafted down this desert valley and into a small community of off-the-grid homes.
As many as 20 heavy trucks a day hauling construction materials and equipment rumbled down the valley’s main gravel road, passing into a gate marked with a “No Trespassing” sign. Helicopters flew in sling loads of cargo. Powerful work lights lit up the valley at night.
Public planners in southwest Wyoming’s Sweetwater County — a sagebrush expanse roughly the size of Massachusetts — say the contractor hired for the project has told them it intends to build a 22,000-square-foot underground storage vault to store documents.
Whose documents exactly? Apparently, the writings of the late L. Ron Hubbard, the Church of Scientology’s founder, and other church records.
But plans remain vague. County land use planner John Barton said the county also has been told the vault might hold any number of things besides documents.
“We’ve had everything from underground housing of sheep or hay,” Barton said. “We’ve had cemetery discussed. We’ve had mining discussed.”
The contractor, International Ground Support Systems of Santa Fe, N.M., also has said it plans to build a 3,500-square-foot caretaker house and an airstrip, county officials say. But they allege that IGSS has failed to apply for two required permits for work done so far.
The mysterious project has riled some neighbors, who value the solitude of their remote community, located about 150 miles east of Salt Lake City.
“I don’t care if it’s Church of Scientology, the Roman Catholic Church or, you know, Kraft Foods,” Barton said. “We have development activity occurring — has occurred and, rumor has it, continues to occur — without required permits.”
A local attorney representing IGSS, Robert Reese, said the earthwork already done is similar to improvements that would be made at any ranch. He said that’s consistent with the site’s agricultural zoning and past use as a cattle ran