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Bills unveiled to deal with Utah Lake restoration and any future islands

Posted at 3:59 PM, Jan 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-27 21:12:18-05

SALT LAKE CITY — A pair of bills have been introduced in the Utah State Legislature to help manage Utah Lake in the future, including the potential for any island development.

Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, filed House Bill 240 which requires the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands, the Utah State Legislature and the governor to all sign off on transferring any public lands to a private entity.

"What we all need to do is take a deep breath, try and listen to each other in a civil way and recognize it takes time to gather the information, present the information and we have a good process that’s in place," he told FOX 13 on Thursday. "Let’s allow that to work and we’ll end up with the best result."

This follows Rep. Stratton's recent Utah Lake Summit, where he convened environmentalists, lawmakers and other stakeholders to discuss the future of the lake.

A company called Lake Restoration Solutions has filed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, seeking to dredge the lake and build islands on it with the material. The company has argued that the project could benefit Utah County economically, as well as helping to clean up the lake.

"The islands provide an economic engine," Lake Restoration Solutions President Jon Benson said at a presentation on Wednesday to the Utah County Commission.

The proposal has faced some public pushback, but Benson insisted to Utah County leaders that the process would be public and transparent.

"We don’t want to get outside of the process that’s established. That will be driven by the Corps, but they have said we’re allowed to hold some public meetings as part of that process," Benson told commissioners.

But HB240 could throw up some more hurdles to the project. The lake bed itself is state-owned lands. Another bill, House Bill 232, sponsored by Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Pleasant Grove, creates a "Utah Lake Authority" to oversee any mitigation efforts to the lake, which has dealt with infestations and harmful algal blooms.

"Right now it’s very divided among various government entities as to who controls Utah Lake. This consolidates that and provides some resources to make decisions to improve the lake," he said Thursday.

Rep. Brammer said the authority would make decisions about mitigation efforts. Right now, the legislature has to decide what happens.

"It’s kind of a herky-jerky start-stop method for dealing with phragmites or algal blooms with different approaches all the time. This allows for one method to start making decisions and not have to come up to the legislature every year and say 'Hey, we want this algal remediation' and it happens one year, and someone else says, 'We want a different algal remediation,'" he said.

The bill also prohibits the Utah Lake Authority from transferring land to a private entity, Rep. Brammer said (a separate piece of legislation passed in 2018 could still allow for it to happen).

Beyond the bills, lawmakers are looking at funding requests to help improve conditions at Utah Lake. The legislature has been paying particular attention this year to water and conservation, with a number of bills introduced to protect the Great Salt Lake.

"I’m in favor of doing the best thing for the lake," said Rep. Stratton. "And making sure what we do is sound scientifically, public policy-wise. Clearly, I think we can all agree on a few things: number one, we need to continue focus and improve the lake. Number two, we want the best outcome and number three, it’s a huge, huge project whatever we do."