Army Corps pauses Utah Lake dredging permit, citing lack of documentation supporting the project

The proposal, which enjoys the backing of the Utah Legislature, has been lambasted by Utah scientists who say dredging would completely disrupt the lake’s ecology.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Jordan River meets Utah Lake in Saratoga Springs on Tuesday, March 1, 2022.

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Permitting for the massive dredging project proposed for Utah Lake has been suspended while the company behind the plan seeks to compile additional materials to support the controversial application to create 18,000 acres of islands, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Late last year, a Utah company called Lake Restoration Solutions (LRS) sought permission from the Army Corps to dredge up to a billion cubic yards of sediments off the lakebed, claiming that sculpting the dredged material into islands would sequester the nutrients and contaminants and make the water clear.

To win the necessary federal permits under the Clean Water Act, LRS would need to produce evidence that dredging will not result in unacceptable impacts to a navigable water body. As of this week, the company has yet to fully comply, prompting executives to put the approval process on hold.

“LRS requested we temporarily pause their permit request while they compile and transmit supporting documentation, materials, and studies,” wrote Army Corps permit specialist Leah Fisher in an email. “Currently, their DA [Department of Army] permit application is not complete because we have not received all the requested information to complete their permit application.”

The proposal, which enjoys the backing of the Utah Legislature, has been lambasted by scientists who say dredging would completely disrupt the lake’s ecology in ways that could cause lasting harm without delivering many of the benefits claimed by LRS.

LRS president Jon Benson did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent to the company’s publicists.

The Army Corps is overseeing the project’s environmental impact statement (EIS) being done by a third-party contractor, Anchor QEA, based in Seattle.

The company’s stated goal is to not only fix the lake’s ecology, which is in sorry shape after a century of neglect and pollution discharges, but turn the lake into a paradise for recreation and wildlife habitat. It would pay for the $6 billion project by selling some of the land created to real estate developers. Plans envision thousands of residential and commercial units on the artificial islands, connected to each other and the lakeshore through a network of bridges and causeways.

Critics have long contended the company lacked a scientific basis for its claim that deepening the lake by 7 feet would improve its water quality, restore native aquatic vegetation, increase water storage and reduce algal blooms.

Those allegations and other criticisms resulted in a defamation lawsuit against Ben Abbott, a Brigham Young University ecology professor, in which LRS seeks $3 million in damages. Abbott has countersued LRS, accusing it of abusing the court system to silence legitimate criticism and public debate.