Utah Lake restoration called “unconstitutional” by state agency

Aug 18, 2022, 11:00 AM
poll utah County utah lake algal bloom...
FILE: The Utah Lake Restoration Project wants to restore and renovate Utah Lake. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)
(Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

PROVO, Utah — The Utah Department of Natural Resources’ state lands director, Jamie Barnes, has told lawmakers that a private project to restore Utah Lake is unconstitutional. 

Barnes’ said that her assessment mirrors a decision by the Utah Attorney General’s office regarding the dredging project. The decision was released yesterday during an interim committee meeting of the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Committee

The passage of HB 240 earlier this year is the driving force behind the report from Barnes.  The Deseret News reported that the approval of HB240 created “extra hoops” that any company wishing to develop state lands would have to jump through, including “getting approval from the Utah Senate, House and governor.”

The AG’s opinion about the unconstitutionality of the project interferes with the state’s duty to manage public lands, Barnes said. She isn’t the only one who feels this way. Members from Conserve Utah Valley (CUV) agree with the claims. 

According to the developer, the project, an attempt to restore “over 150 years of human-caused degradation of Utah Lake” will make the lake a better, healthier ecosystem. Part of this development includes accessible islands advertised as a place where families can swim, picnic and explore. 

The Lake Resolution Solution company (LRS) wants to dredge a million cubic yards of sediment from the lake and use it to build these islands, some of which would be used for housing developments.

Need for scientific proof

Conserve Utah Valley Executive Director Craig Christensen and Marketing Director Carol-Lyn Jardine worked with the department head of watershed sciences at Utah State University, Patrick Belmont. In a report to the legislative committee on Capitol Hill, they also claimed the island proposal lacks scientific evidence and is unconstitutional.

They also said misinformation has been spread resulting in a lack of transparency to the public.

“Countless scientists have worked tirelessly to ensure that science is meaningfully informing our public investments,” said Belmont. “I think we just avoided a multi-billion dollar boondoggle and loss of a wonderful, recovering public resource. Now let’s redouble efforts to help Utah Lake fully recover from the damage done over the past century.”

Christensen added he feels this is a huge win for the general public of Utah and those who love the lake.

“The Attorney General’s office provided legal opinion that made it very clear that the ‘sovereign lands’ of Utah Lake belong to each one of us, not to special interests with economic self-interest,” said Christensen. 

Despite the new legal concerns, an environmental analysis of the plan is still moving forward.

On Tuesday, August 23 at 7 p.m., there will be an online forum to discuss this and other issues with a panel of seven Utah Lake experts. The forum is sponsored by one of the Utah Lake coalition members, Utah Valley Earth Forum. Details will be available at UVEF.org and Facebook.com/theUVEF.

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Utah Lake restoration called “unconstitutional” by state agency