Vineyard gets first look at Utah Lake restoration project
With controversy and intrigue swirling, there may have been more attention paid to Utah Lake in the past year than in the past 100. Vineyard’s City Council took their turn examining theissue at their work session Wednesday.
For the first time, the council met with, and was able to ask questions of, Lake Restoration Solutions – the group behind the oft-discussed island concept plans.
In reality, there are about four different projects concerning or surrounding the lake and the timing of these all coming forward has numerous residents of many cities confused.
According to Mayor Julie Fullmer, there are four projects that are not connected to each other. Lake Restoration Solutions is one. Then there is the Utah Lake Authority bill being discussed at the Legislature. Vineyard has the Holdaway project around the lake shore and then there is the Walkara Way project that takes in wetlands between Vineyard and Provo.
Vineyard’s council is separating those out, and on Wednesday listened to Jon Benson, President of Lake Restoration Solutions. The group’s team also includes Geosyntec consultants and SWCA environmental consultants. More than 1,700 scientists and engineers are also involved between the associated companies.
The council heard Benson go step-by-step with what has happened, and how far they have to go — and what is real amongst the confusion.
Public input has been opened in the last week with the Corps of Engineers. This will be one of many comment periods. Town Hall meetings will begin in April and will go for up to 24 months. The project, if accepted, would take up to 15 years or more, according to Benson.
“Utah Lake was once a thriving ecosystem with aquatic vegetation,” Benson said. “Now it has significant problems that are human caused.”
The lake can’t recover without intervention, Benson added. “The project is a comprehensive restoration plan including the dredging.”
The dredging will remove, store and sequester nutrient loads from the lake bed. That storage and removal would be used to build recreational and livable islands in the lake up to 18,000 acres.
The islands would be recreational in part for hiking trails, camping and boating. Other islands would be for new communities. Benson said it would be from these communities that much of the money would be earned back to repay the entities involved.
Benson noted that community islands would have a variety of housing and would not be just for the elite, including multi-family dwellings, condos and townhomes. However, there will be large expensive homes on more than an acre as well. Before that, they must determine how many people will live on these islands.
While population figures are being thrown out, Benson is hoping far fewer than 500,000 would live on the islands.
There are five phases to the project with three land types, however, there is no guarantee those islands will be shaped or sized the way current renderings are shown. They could be anywhere the state says they should go on the lake, according to Benson.
The design, roads and transportation are important to Vineyard, and the council wanted to know if the islands will affect the new downtown city design. These are still unknowns, Benson said.
Some examples of other island communities were brought up, but according to Benson, some of them were not used for environmental purposes like this project.
Groups opposed to the lake projects have shown failed projects in Dubai and China, but Benson noted those were done for purposes other than environmental. China’s was just to collect sand.
Other similar projects include one currently being done outside Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The public has even seen the birds coming back to the new islands.
Benson said his group supported the wetlands — particularly what the Walkara Way project was trying to accomplish. While some conservation groups are reporting that dredging is detrimental and causes problems for evaporation of the lake, Benson said scientists have proven that is not true and the data is all with the Corp of Engineers.
Councilmembers had numerous questions, but many of which cannot be answered for another few years of input and study. However, it is agreed that Vineyard should now be involved with every step of the process as the whole town lines the lake. The city’s new downtown also involves constructing a boardwalk along the shoreline.
Benson said that it was a good time for Vineyard to come on board, but that they are nowhere near dredging quite yet.
As far as money, the state already has $10 million sitting in the bank. The Environmental Protection Agency is suggesting they would grant $893 million in privately guaranteed money for the project. A letter from Citigroup said they would provide up to $5 Billion toward the project.
In the meantime, Fullmer said residents should leave comments either online, with the council or attend one of the town halls that will be held over the next several months.