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Utah Supreme Court Deliberating Public Trust Case

Photo courtesy of Charles Uibel:

The Utah Supreme Court is deliberating over a case involving state lands, specifically lake beds and other submerged lands located below navigable water bodies. According to the Utah Constitution such lands are to be held in trust for the people of Utah. However, some Utahns feel that the public do not have sufficient ability to challenge how these lands get used.  


Rob Dubuc, an attorney withWestern Resources Advocates, explained the genesis of the case.

“What this case is about, is the [Utah] Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands made a decision to lease about 90,000 acres of the bed of Great Salt Lake and when Friends of Great Salt Lake and other conservation groups complained to the agency and said the agency hadn’t done an adequate public trust analysis the agency said that the citizens of Utah did not have a right to challenge that decision.”

That’s how Western Resources Advocates and some conservation groups see it: theUtah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands should have to allow Utahns a means to challenge decisions to lease Utah trust lands. Article 20 of the Utah Constitution, which deals with public lands, does not address this issue and Dubuc and others think it needs clarification.

But Fred Donaldson with the Utah Attorney General’s office says that's not the case.

“[Friends of the Great Salt Lake's] avenue to prevent the mineral leasing came earlier during the planning process which is a broad public process that’s done with many stakeholders... This case is really about procedures and when people can be involved and how people can be involved.”

If all this sounds familiar to the people of Utah, it’s because this case is not new.

“You know this case has been going on 7 to 8 years now. It has gone up to the Supreme Court once, come back down to the district court, recently back up to the Supreme Court, basically asking the court to tell the agency you must give the citizens of Utah a right to challenge these decisions,” says Dubuc.

It’s also not likely a resolution will be reached anytime soon, as the Utah Supreme Court isn’t expected to have a decision in the case for 9 months to a year.