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Utah Lake island-building proposal deemed unconstitutional by state

A sailboat with four people on board sails in front of large snowcapped mountains
stateparks.utah.gov

The future of a controversial dredging and island building proposal that aims to improve water quality and put subdivisions to house up to 500,000 people on Utah Lake is now uncertain.

The project, proposed by Lake Restoration Solutions, has gotten unanimous support from Utah’s congressional delegation, but last Wednesday, Director Jamie Barnes of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands called the project unconstitutional under House Bill 240 at the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee meeting.

“I have been advised by our legal counsel, that there are material and substantive legal issues with the proposal submitted by Lake Restoration Solutions, and that it is detrimental to the state of Utah and the public trust. The proposal is unconstitutional, and is not legally sound,” Barnes said.

Utah Lake’s lake bed is considered state sovereign land, meaning Utah is responsible for protecting the land’s health and ensuring public access. The dredging proposal would effectively privatize the lake bed, which could put the state at risk of losing state lands to a private entity permanently.

Barnes also said that Lake Restoration Solutions has not provided enough data to support the proposal.

“The Division has been working with the agents of Lake Restoration Solutions on technical issues with regard to the application…the proposal associated with the application lacks the scientific data to report the recommendations referred to in 1A of the legislation,” Barnes explained.

Despite Barnes’s announcement, the project is still under consideration for approval by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

After the announcement, vocal critic of the project and BYU assistant professor of aquatic ecology, Ben Abbott, called for protections for state employees involved in the decision on Twitter, citing the defamation lawsuit Lake Restoration Solutions has called against him, stating:

“We know that the proponents of this project don't have scruples about attacking people individually and they still have allies in the legislature.”

Abbott and other Utah Lake researchers have argued since the project was first proposed that it would cause irreversible damage to the lake’s ecosystem, and that current projects to restore the lake have already made significant progress.

Aimee Van Tatenhove is a science reporter at UPR. She spends most of her time interviewing people doing interesting research in Utah and writing stories about wildlife, new technologies and local happenings. She is also a PhD student at Utah State University, studying white pelicans in the Great Salt Lake, so she thinks about birds a lot! She also loves fishing, skiing, baking, and gardening when she has a little free time.