FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Provo, Utah
Thursday, August 18, 2022
Craig Christensen, Executive Director for CUV 801-361-6200
Patrick Belmont Professor and Head of Department of Watershed Sciences at USU 435-374-8574
Carol-Lyn Jardine, Marketing Director for CUV 801-358-6807
Utah Lake Island Proposal Lacks Scientific Evidence and Deemed Unconstitutional in State Report to Legislative Committee
The Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee of the Utah Legislature received a report on Wednesday, August 17 from the Division of Forestry, Fire, and State Lands Director Jamie Barnes. In that report, state agencies shared three clear findings regarding the proposal to build islands on Utah Lake.
Barnes prefaced her comments by stating that the Division does not take a position on this project and that they had been working openly and in a friendly manner with Lake Restoration Solutions (LRS), the company proposing to build artificial islands on Utah Lake.
Speaking to the project’s status, Barnes reported that LRS had not provided adequate scientific evidence for her Division to evaluate whether their proposal met the criteria required by state law. She then reported that LRS had submitted a memo to the State outlining the legal merits of the proposal. Barnes reported that the Utah Attorney General’s office was unequivocal in their rejection of LRS’s proposal. She said, “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.”
Conserve Utah Valley and a diverse coalition of community groups have been working with the legislature since last year to address concerns about Utah Lake governance. The coalition welcomed the announcement by Director Barnes and the Legislature for their work in understanding this very important issue and for working on a process that was integral to transparency and dealing with essential questions like sovereign lands.
“We are grateful for the legal analysis that preceded Wednesday’s announcement,” said Carol-Lyn Jardine, Conserve Utah Valley Marketing Director. “We have always had a concern with the sovereignty issue. Through that analysis, it appears that those concerns were well founded. The public trust is paramount, and yesterday we saw evidence in that analysis.”
Patrick Belmont, a Professor and Head of Department of Watershed Sciences at USU and is a candidate for the Utah House of Representatives, District 3 attended the hearing.
“I appreciate that our state agency experts have done the hard work and due diligence to see through the special interests and misinformation and make the right decision for Utahns,” Belmont said. “Countless scientists have worked tirelessly to ensure that science is meaningfully informing our public investments. I think we just avoided a multi-billion dollar boondoggle and loss of a wonderful, recovering public resource. Now let’s redouble efforts to help Utah Lake fully recover from the damage done over the past century.”
Craig Christensen, Executive Director for Conserve Utah Valley, was also elated to hear the news.
“This was a win for everyone who loves Utah Lake,” Christensen said. “Director Barnes made clear what 119 scientists stated last year. There is a lack of adequate scientific evidence in the islands proposal. The Attorney General’s office provided legal opinion that made it very clear that the ‘sovereign lands’ of Utah Lake belong to each one of us, not to special interests with economic self-interest.”
Conserve Utah Valley and dozens of other organizations embarked to raise awareness regarding Utah Lake, and including proper vetting and processes by State agencies. In the Committee yesterday, led by Representative Keven Stratton, Chairman and Sponsor of HB240 last session, the safeguards of sound public policy and the importance of good legislation came into effect.
“Sound process, scientific evaluation, and the Constitution of the State of Utah had an important moment,” continued Christensen. “We appreciate the legislative structure in place that protects transparency and truth, and preserves the public trust. Oh, and let’s not forget the thousands of people who showed up to protect Utah Lake.”
The final finding Barnes shared was that Utah Lake continues to improve thanks to the combined efforts of multiple state and federal agencies and local partners. There is increased prioritization of restoration of the lake given by our state agencies and the legislature.
This coming Tuesday, August 23 at 7pm, there will be an online forum to discuss this and other issues with a panel of seven Utah Lake Experts. The forum is sponsored by one of the Utah Lake coalition members, Utah Valley Earth Forum. Details will be available at UVEF.org and Facebook.com/theUVEF.
The recording of Director Barnes’ report can be accessed here and a transcript of her report is below:
Thank you Mr. Chair. Again, Jamie Barnes, Director of Forestry, Fires, and State Lands. Well, thanks for giving me the opportunity today to update you on HB240 and the Utah Lake Restoration Project. Prior to getting into the update, I want to be clear that the Division does not take a position on this project. We’ve been working openly and in a friendly manner with Lake Restoration Solutions and looking at all options to enhance the quality of Utah lake. Since the implementation of HB240, the Division has been working towards addressing the key elements of the legislation, which is the recommendations for standards, criteria, and thresholds, and obviously the disposal of sovereign lands. In addition, the Division has been working with the agents of Lake Restoration Solutions on technical issues with regard to the application. These include: entity incorporation, application-party discrepancies, exchange versus disposal discrepancies, location of the project, and an application that predates the legislation.
With regard to the proposal, the proposal associated with the application lacks the scientific data to report the recommendations referred to in 1A of the legislation. This also makes it challenging to update you on the specific details required by the legislation at this time. However, more importantly for today is the disposal element associated with this project. When HB240 took effect, we met with the agents of Lake Restoration Solutions. We asked them to submit a legal memo to the Division regarding the fee simple disposal issue for this project. Since that time, the memo submitted has undergone extensive legal review by the Attorney General’s Office who is our legal counsel. 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.
Now, I understand that this is a case of first impression, but this project presents a risk to the state of Utah. There is a possibility of permanent loss of sovereign land to a private entity, the exposure to the state based on a fiduciary duty attributable to sovereign land, and impermissible infringement on public access to a state asset. Now, I know that’s a lot to take in, but that’s the update that I prepared for you today, and I’m happy to answer any questions that you may have. Thank you.