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A Pentagon agency took pains Wednesday to give Utahns a say on a test explosion proposed for the Nevada desert.

But many visitors complained instead they were frustrated, angry and as suspicious as ever about the Defense Threat Reduction Agency's (DTRA) so-called "Divine Strake" test, the detonation of 700 tons of conventional explosives to study the destruction of underground bunkers, like those used by the nation's foreign enemies.

More than 200 people toured displays providing data on the blast in a Grand America Hotel ballroom in Salt Lake City, one of three locations for "public information sessions" on the controversial explosion.

They were invited to question agency staff, fill in comment sheets, declare their thoughts to a court reporter or e-mail their comments later.

But they wanted more public input. Tension between the visitors and their government hosts bubbled over when Divine Strake opponent Kevin Donahue grabbed the attention of the whole room and asked opponents to speak up. And they did, whistling and cheering.

"This is not a public forum," called out one of the security guards who surrounded Donahue.

Just about everyone wished it had been - including U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, U.S. Rep. Jim Matheson, D-2nd District, and Republican Gov. Jon M. Huntsman Jr. - all of whom sent representatives to the meeting. Huntsman, in fact, has scheduled two state-sponsored public hearings later this month.

DTRA's David Rigby pointed out the strong attendance at the open house, itself an added effort to engage the public on the environmental assessment for Divine Strake.

"I think it went very well," he said. "I'm pleased with the turnout."

Disappointed Holladay resident Kathleen Bourne had hoped for an exchange of ideas as in a public hearing.

"They have diluted any group dynamics," said Bourne, who is worried about the possible health impacts of the radiation-tainted debris cloud. "But I think that might be what they intended."

Anna Bowman, a Salt Lake Valley eighth-grader, said the test frightens her, considering what happened after atomic weapons explosions conducted previously at the test site.

"We can't really be sure if these so-called safe tests are going to have any long-term effects that we don't know about," she said.

Donahue phoned in an assault report against the security guards who tried to hustle him from the room. As he waited for police, he said: "I don't know if there is anything wrong about speaking out and saying what you think. Do they really want to hear?"

In the month remaining for public comment on Divine Strake, many Utahns are expected to ask for more detailed environmental study and in-depth public hearings.

Utah's own meetings

There are two public hearings on Divine Strake held by the state.


Jan. 18, 5-8 p.m., Dixie State College, Dunford Auditorium, Browning Building, 225 S. 700 East


Jan. 24, 5:30-8:30 p.m., state Capitol, West Building, Room 135, 450 N. State St.