Utah Lake islands are dead, but the controversy continues

Although the plan to dredge Utah Lake and build artificial islands for real estate development was squashed when the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands found the plan unconstitutional, more controversy continues to rise to the surface. 

A rendering of what the dredged islands could have looked like.

A recent Salt Lake Tribune article exposed that the company perpetuating the proposal, Lake Restoration Solutions (LRS), nearly convinced Governor Cox to hold a news conference claiming that they had secured a significant federal loan for their project. However, emails and records reveal that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had never invited LRS to apply for federal funds.

LRS was attempting to receive funding from the EPA through a program typically used for upgrading water treatment plants. LRS insisted to the public that their plan was for the health of Utah Lake, but many saw through the scheme as a thinly veiled real estate project. The company proposed building a city of up to 500,000 people on the lake, and experts, like BYU Professor Ben Abbott, were adamant that the islands would disrupt ongoing restoration efforts that are actually improving the health of the lake. LRS later lost a lawsuit attempting to silence Abbott. 

The proposal would have allocated about half of its 18,000 acres of islands to private development. The Lake is managed as public land, which ultimately saved it from this proposal. LRS was seeking nearly $1 billion in state and federal assistance for the project, meaning taxpayers would have been footing the bill for this disaster.

This is not the first funding controversy associate with the project. It was initially touted as privately funded, but later exposed that as much as $1 billion has already been pledged to purchase real estate that doesn’t, and might not ever, exist.

LRS ultimately dissolved and declared bankruptcy without receiving any federal assistance. Despite the project failing to get off the ground, the Tribune article highlights questions about the influence LRS had within the state government and the questionable actions taken to promote its project.

Find the Tribune article on the controversy here.

The Salt Lake Tribune created an interactive timeline of LRS’ proposal for Utah Lake.