August 17th was a winning day for Utah Lake. We have been fighting hard to protect the integrity of the lake from being tarnished by those who wish to build and develop islands. Utah Lake is an ecological masterpiece that deserves our time, attention, and respect. The drafters of the Utah Constitution thought that the lake, along with all of the other navigable bodies of water in the state, deserved to receive the special status of “sovereign land”.
The term “sovereign land” has been thrown around by various parties, but what exactly does it mean? In essence, it means that the lands are to remain exclusively for the public to use. This prohibits any private entity to own any of the land under Utah Lake, in other words, the lakebed. In that sense, it belongs to all of us collectively, and we ought to make sure that it stays that way.
All of this background leads to the breakthrough announcement made by Jamie Barnes, director of the Division of Forestry, Fires, and State Lands (FFSL). She shared that the Attorney General’s office had determined that the islands project proposed by Lake Restoration Solutions (LRS) was unconstitutional and legally unsound because it involved the disposal of sovereign lands.
The process of reviewing the legal and scientific basis of Lake Restoration Solutions’ proposal was due to HB240 which was passed at the beginning of this year. This bill requires FFSL to review all projects dealing with the restoration of Utah Lake and provide a recommendation for or against each project to the State Legislature. Director Barnes stated that in addition to the project being unconstitutional and legally unsound, LRS did not provide sufficient scientific evidence supporting their project. It is important to note that this was simply a status update and not a formal recommendation for the project; a recommendation from FFSLwill be forthcoming.
What are the implications of these statements? First, it does not mean that the battle for Utah Lake is over. However, it does create a major roadblock for Lake Restoration Solutions whose entire project was based upon receiving those lands. Because of this, we are very grateful for FFSL taking this stance to protect Utah Lake and for all the previous and continued work they are doing to restore our lake.
In addition, it is important to repeal the law that allowed LRS to propose their project, HB 272. This bill illegally opened the door for the disposal of sovereign land. In order to uphold the integrity of the Utah Constitution and Utah Lake, it is critical that HB 272 be rescinded.