Utah Lake dredging project rejected by Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands

The Utah company proposing the project may reapply for the land exchange, the division stated in a news release.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Lake, seen from Saratoga Springs on Tuesday, March 1, 2022.

A controversial application to dredge Utah Lake as part of massive island-building project will be canceled, the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands announced Thursday in a news release.

Lake Restoration Solutions (LRS) has claimed for the past five years that its plan to dredge a billion cubic yards of lake bed sediments would result in numerous public benefits — while also creating up to 20,000 acres of developable real estate. Most importantly, the project is supposed to restore Utah’s largest freshwater lake, which has long been plagued with nutrient contamination, algal blooms, invasive species and myriad other ecological woes stemming from a century of neglect.

But despite “working tirelessly” with LRS, the state agency concluded the application must be rejected since the proposal would privatize “sovereign lands” in violation of the state’s obligations to manage the lake bed in the “public trust” as required under the Utah Constitution, according to the 94-page decision.

The announcement came about two months after state land managers told lawmakers that the dredging project was unconstitutional.

Under LRS’s proposal, thousands of acres of land would be transferred from the state to the company, which would sell it to real estate developers to defray the $6 billion cost of the project. Such an arrangement would not be in the best interests of the public, the state concluded.

“Because the pending application considers the disposal of land that would impede navigation and permanently transfer sovereign lands to private parties, violating the public trust that is constitutionally imposed on these lands, the division determined that cancellation of the pending application is appropriate and required,” the state’s news release said.

The company can reapply with the agency in the future, as can other entities interested in proposing projects to benefit the lake, the release stated.

LRS President Jonathan Benson chalked up the cancellation to “technical concerns” that arose since the company was undergoing the permitting process.

“We have been engaging with the Division to address the specific concerns shared,” he said in an emailed statement “This record of decision gives us greater clarity on the path forward. We remain committed to our mission of helping to restore a healthy Utah Lake that could become an incredible recreation destination for all Utahns to enjoy while ensuring a future clean water supply and creating thousands of local jobs.”

The statement did not specify the nature of the concerns.

LRS also had a parallel application underway with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which regulates dredging in navigable waters. The federal agency two weeks terminated that approval process after the company missed deadlines for submitting required information regarding the project and its potential impacts.