Issues of Concern:
As written, the bill gives the Utah Lake Authority the following span of control – removing responsibility of the following from legislative oversight and protections:
- The right to dispose of land.
- The ability to borrow money, issue bonds, enter into contracts, and transact business.
- The ability to define the boundaries of the Authority.
- Review all zoning, future development, and transportation modeling.
- Interface with all agencies and the federal government.
- Create a management plan.
Updated position (as of 2/15/2022)
With each new day of the Legislative session, there are compromises and adjustments made to bills. HB232 Utah Lake Authority is no exception. Over the past two weeks, CUV has been rigorously vetting the bill, including a lengthy discussion with Rep. Brammer about our concerns. Our original position, formed based on the working version of the bill from the early days of this session, is posted below. This position outlines the concerns we had with the bill going into the session. While we are still concerned about many of the issues outlined below, one of our primary concerns has been addressed. At our request, Rep. Brammer has adopted language in HB232 to clarify and ensure that the public trust doctrine will be enforced for any projects coming before the Utah Lake Authority. This means that the ULA will not have the authority to transfer sovereign lands.
Based on this adjustment, Conserve Utah Valley’s position on ULA has moved from unsupportive to neutral. We see some positives in the legislation, including the ability for the ULA to allocate funds to science-based conservation projects, like Walkara Way. However we still see some issues with the make up of the board.
We encourage you to participate virtually in the Feb. 15 hearing of the House Political Subdivisions Committee at 4 pm (link here for virtual meeting options). We believe that the arguments in committee will further inform our opinion, and yours.
Our Position (as of 1/27/2022)
Due to decades of concerted, cooperative efforts from local and state entities, Utah Lake is on a path to recovery—algal blooms are declining, water flows are increasing, and native species are rebounding (documented here). One thing we can all agree on, there is still work to be done for the lake to make a full recovery. Unfortunately, there is a strong movement – that ignores the successes – that is driving a range of proposals that would compound existing problems facing Utah Lake.
Among these is the proposed Utah Lake Authority, patterned after Salt Lake Valley’s Inland Port Authority, which threatens to centralize government authority and unwind the collaborative, local-led processes that have been paying off for Utah Lake and the communities around it. The proposed Authority would have unilateral power to make decisions permanently affecting Utah Lake by board vote with very limited scientific and public input. The exact boundaries of the Authority’s power—and its relationship to existing governmental bodies and proposals, such as the dangerous islands proposal—aren’t totally clear.
What is clear, however, is that any legislation significantly affecting a community resource like Utah Lake requires much more rigorous, engaged input and scrutiny than the current Utah Lake Authority proposal has received. We also believe that any changes to the way Utah Lake is managed should be informed by the Utah Lake Water Quality Study that is expected to be complete in 2023. We express our concern that the bill threatens to deeply rearrange the legal landscape that governs Utah Lake, throw current management plans into disarray, and rush headlong into unknown consequences that could last far into the future.
In Utah Lake as elsewhere, an untouchable, coercive bureaucracy is not the solution. We believe that the legislative branch should not delegate their responsibility of oversite for a resource critical to our ecology to a central authority. To the contrary, what is needed is more robust public involvement and collaborative mechanisms to empower local governments and stakeholders surrounding the Lake to develop a shared, collaborative vision. Rather than governing by top-down edicts from a central authority, the best future for Utah Lake will come through working together and earning buy-in from the whole Utah Valley community.
Such a deep shake-up to Utah Lake governance simply isn’t needed—especially not as the Lake is on track to recovery and not long before the Utah Lake Water Quality Study is to be released. The Utah Lake Commission already brings together local municipalities, county and state entities, and representatives from the Utah Legislature to consider, without threat of coercion or unilateral decision-making, the best path forward for the Lake.
The Utah Lake Commission supports scientific research and public education about Utah Lake—efforts that are beginning to bear fruit and revitalize Utah Lake. Conserve Utah Valley celebrates the recent appointment of Michelle Kaufusi as Commission Chair and is optimistic about the Commission’s future as a tool of bringing together diverse community interests around Utah Lake.
We support conservative, science-based, and local-led principles of governance that have brought clear victories in restoring the health and use of Utah Lake. We know that we have an obligation to protect Utah Lake for all future generations of Utahns and believe that the proposed Utah Lake Authority is a step in the wrong direction for Utah Lake.