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Guest op-ed: Dubai islands in Utah Lake — a dubious project

By John Bennion - Special to the Daily Herald | Jan 26, 2022


John Bennion

By now, you’ve probably heard that a company is proposing to build islands in Utah Lake — like those offshore from Dubai. Utah Lake is not the Persian Gulf, but I decided to explore how the Dubai Islands are doing. This might be good to know before we allow someone to mess in a significant way with the geography of our lake.

This project would be to create about 20,000 acres of islands, a larger area than the surface of all the islands built in Dubai (13,000 acres). The Dubai project, announced in 2003, had a projected price tag of $15 billion, but by 2008 all the money was gone and only one island had been built. Building man-made islands is extremely expensive; in 2019, Hong Kong announced plans to build a 2,471-acre island which they project to cost almost $80 billion (france24.com).

One study of the Dubai project reported in 2006, “The Palm Jumeirah has buried and asphyxiated wildlife, increased turbidity, and changed the alongshore sediment transport” (dukespace.lib.duke.edu/dspace/handle/10161/104). Another study says, “The facts suggest that these islands which are created as the result of developmental policies of Dubai, have threatened the environmental security of Persian Gulf and have caused alarming environmental consequences for other coastal states” (Moussavi and Aghaei, Social and Behavioral Sciences 81, 2013, pp. 311-313). In 2018, the Guardian reported, “Surveying the barren spots of sand that dot the sea today — which, in aerial images, make it look as if the Gulf is suffering from a nasty case of acne –it’s hard to shake the sense of an Ozymandian ruin. … Overnight, billions of pounds in construction contracts evaporated in a puff of sand, leaving a trail of bankruptcies, lawsuits and unpaid debts.”

Tomorrow City is an organization that promotes intelligent global city planning — “moving forward through open innovation” — and has such partners as Microsoft, Cisco and many other large corporations. An article published on their website Aug. 5, 2021, describes the Dubai island project: “The chronology of the events is long and complex, but essentially it can be summarized in private investors that pulled out, million dollar debts incurred by the developer, lawsuits and suspended works, with no restart date. … The main reason is that the sand extracted from the seabed to build the 300 archipelagos, was gradually returning to its place of origin.” These articles say that investors are still trying to move forward with the project but that the cost will be astronomical.

Even more astronomical is the amount of money it would take to establish even more acres of islands than the Dubai project in the middle of Utah Lake. What could happen is that the organizers will pay themselves huge taxpayer-funded salaries, make a mess and not clean it up. A much less expensive and more efficient route to improving Utah Lake is to augment the work that is already being done by the Utah Lake Commission and Utah Division of Water Quality.

If what the citizens of Utah County want is to create 20,000 more acres of sellable real estate, bring in 500,000 more people and ruin the lake for wildlife and recreationists, then we should sit back and let them do it. But it’s duplicitous of the company to pretend that their real goal is to revive the lake when what will make them billions is selling lots for houses and building roads and parking lots on the lake.

John Bennion writes essays and fiction about people living on the eastern edge of the Great Basin in Utah. Many of his essays focus on landscape, family and religion and describe his ancestors’ experience ranching in Rush Valley, Tooele County. Last year, he retired from teaching creative writing at Brigham Young University, where he specialized in outdoor courses that encouraged student growth through the writing of personal essays about their experiences in the natural world. He has lived in Utah County for 33 years and is a member of Conserve Utah Valley.


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