Lake Restoration Solutions sues Utah over canceled plan to dredge Utah Lake | News, Sports, Jobs

Utah Lake is pictured from Utah Lake State Park on Monday, April 25, 2022.

A rendering of one of the proposed community islands in the Utah Lake Restoration Project, provided on March 17, 2022.

Ashtyn Asay, Daily Herald file photo

Utah Lake is pictured from Utah Lake State Park on Monday, April 25, 2022.

The fight over the future of Utah Lake is far from over. For years, Lake Restoration Solutions has pushed and promoted a proposal to dredge Utah Lake and construct human-made islands for development.

The proposal originated in 2018 and has been the subject of scrutiny by lawmakers, governmental bodies and environmentalists ever since. In 2022 alone, Lake Restoration Solutions was required to perform an environmental impact statement, had its project called “not legally sound” by the director of Utah’s Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, had the plan canceled by the same agency, appealed that decision and, finally, had the cancellation upheld on Dec. 12 by the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

On Wednesday, the company filed a lawsuit in Provo’s 4th District Court to “seek judicial review of the informal proceedings which resulted in the Record of Decision issued by the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire & State Lands, and the Order on Petition for Consistency Review issued by the Utah Department of Natural Resources,” according to court documents.

The suit argues that the decision of Forestry, Fire and State Lands to cancel the project violated state law and agency regulations through a “legally incorrect understanding or interpretation” of the state’s public trust doctrine and goes against the state Legislature’s intent with the 2018 Utah Lake Restoration Act.

In the 2022 paper “Public Lands in Public Hands: Analysis of the Underpinnings of Utah’s Public Trust Doctrine,” Brigham Young University law student Brittany Thorley argues that the Utah Lake Restoration Act violates the public trust doctrine as well. She wrote that the doctrine “asserts that lands underlying navigable waters should remain available for public use, and the state, as trustee, cannot alienate the responsibility of preserving this public benefit.”

Courtesy Lake Restoration Solutions

A rendering of one of the proposed community islands in the Utah Lake Restoration Project, provided on March 17, 2022.

The original Utah Lake Restoration Act allows the Department of Natural Resources — which oversees Forestry, Fire and State Lands — to consider giving over the lakebed to a private developer in exchange for environmental restoration.

The 13 public benefits required under the law, as listed in the lawsuit, are:

  • Restoring the clarity and quality of the water in Utah Lake.
  • Conserving water resources in and around Utah Lake.
  • Preserving the water storage and water supply functions of Utah Lake.
  • Removing invasive plant and animal species, including phragmites and carp, from Utah Lake.
  • Restoring littoral zone and other plant communities in and around Utah Lake.
  • Restoring and conserving native fish and other aquatic species in Utah Lake, including Bonneville cutthroat trout and June Sucker.
  • Increasing the suitability of Utah Lake and its surrounding areas for shore birds, waterfowl and other avian species.
  • Improving navigability of Utah Lake.
  • Maximizing, enhancing and ensuring recreational access and opportunities on Utah Lake.
  • Preserving current water rights related to water associated with Utah Lake.
  • Otherwise improving the use of Utah Lake for residents and visitors.
  • Substantially accommodating an existing use on land in or around Utah Lake.
  • Providing any other benefits identified by the division.

The company argues that its plan would be a benefit to the lake’s ecology. Local scientists and environmentalists have disagreed with this assessment, notably Ben Abbott, assistant professor of plant and wildlife sciences at BYU.

When the plan was canceled in October, Abbott told the Daily Herald, “The official rejection of this proposal, I think, can open the door to a new phase in Utah Lake restoration where we are focused on the science, what the community needs and on collaborative work.”

Abbott is also being sued by Lake Restoration Solutions, with the company claiming defamation by Abbott, false light and intentional interference with prospective economic relations.

“The proposed enhancement cannot appropriately compensate current and future generations for the permanent impairment to the land and water remaining and the permanent deprivation of thousands of acres of state sovereign land,” Joel Ferry, head of Utah’s DNR, wrote in his order supporting the plan’s cancellation.

The attorney for Lake Restoration Solutions, as named in the lawsuit, are Stewart Peay and Annika Jones of Snell & Wilmer. Peay’s focus is on general commercial litigation while Jones specializes in complex commercial litigation, according to their respective biographies. A judge has not yet been assigned.


Join thousands already receiving our daily newsletter.

Comments are closed.