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Lawmakers move forward to repeal legislation that would have allowed Utah Lake island development

By Carlene Coombs - | Feb 16, 2024

Harrison Epstein, Daily Herald file photo

Utah Lake is seen from the Provo/Jordan River Parkway on Saturday, Dec. 11, 2021.

With the Lake Restoration Solutions project dried up, killing plans to dredge Utah Lake and built islands, Utah lawmakers are now seeking to repeal the 2018 legislation that would have paved the way for the project in the first place.

The repeal is being headed by Sen. Mike McKell, R-Spanish Fork, who ran the original legislation in 2018 when he was a member of the Utah House. Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Pleasant Grove, is the House sponsor.

The 2018 bill was to allow the disposal of state land in or around Utah Lake to a private entity in exchange for conservation projects for the benefit of the lake. That paved the way for the controversial Lake Restoration Solutions island project that has since gone under.

McKell described the bill as “straightforward” and an opportunity for a clean slate in finding solutions to improve the lake.

“The (Utah Lake Restoration Act) has created a fair amount of controversy over the years and we’ve had a few legal opinions in the end and we’re going to have a clean slate in Utah County, a clean canvas as we move forward with Utah Lake,” McKell said, adding the Utah Lake still needs help.

Utah Lake has had a variety of ecological issues, such as toxic algal blooms and invasive common carp.

The Lake Restoration Solutions proposal received significant backlash, eventually sinking five years after it was first proposed. Much of the pushback came from conservation groups, with more than a hundred people, such as ecologists and natural resource managers, signing a letter in 2021 denouncing the plan.

One outspoken opponent was ecologist and Brigham Young University professor Ben Abbott, one of the letter’s signers. Lake Restoration Solutions unsuccessfully attempted to sue Abbott for $3 million on defamation claims.

In 2022, the director of the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands stated the Lake Restoration Solutions project was “unconstitutional” and not “legally sound.” Later that year, the division canceled the private company’s application to move forward with the project.

Lake Restoration Solutions has since filed for bankruptcy and the company has dissolved.

Kael Weston, a Democrat U.S. Senate candidate in 2022, spoke in favor of the bill during public comment, saying it was a “long overdue step.”

“It was controversial and I think importantly, hopefully, there’s a lot of lessons learned that can be taken about how the Utah Lake situation went and how it was resolved,” Weston said.

McKell pointed to another proposal in the Legislature from Provo Sen. Curt Bramble this year to fund a study on Utah Lake.

According to Utah News Dispatch, Bramble’s proposal would likely be a yearlong study and cost up to $2 million. Former Gov. Gary Herbert also expressed support for a study on Utah Lake, specifically on how the freshwater lake can help the struggling Great Salt Lake.

McKell expressed support for a study, adding that repealing the previous legislation would allow for a “fresh start” for Bramble’s proposal.

“I think we’re gonna put all the data together and go back to the drawing board and try to improve that lake as much as we can,” he said.

The legislation was presented during a Senate committee meeting Friday morning where it received unanimous support. It will now go to the full Senate.


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