BYU professor presents '7 more problems' with Utah Lake Restoration Project – Daily Herald

Ashtyn Asay, Daily Herald
A Brigham Young University professor has released what he claims to be “seven more problems” with a controversial Utah Lake restoration project proposal, though developers continue to contend the plan will do no harm.
Benjamin Abbott, an assistant plant and wildlife sciences professor at BYU, has been an outspoken opponent of the Utah Lake Restoration Project, which is a proposal to dredge Utah Lake in order to build islands for recreational, estuary and residential use.
On July 17, Abbott made a post to his blog entitled “Seven more problems with the Utah Lake islands proposal,” following up on a post he made in November.
“There have been major revelations since then, and I thought an update was in order,” Abbott wrote in his July 17 post. “Whatever your current position on the island project, this issue is too important to stay on the fence. Utah Lake needs all of us to be informed and engaged.”
In the post, Abbott states that Lake Restoration Solutions has failed to answer questions about who would be held liable for any potential damages caused by the project, and also failed to be forthcoming with the public about what specifically the project would entail. He also states that the company has quashed healthy debate surrounding the Utah Lake Restoration Project and questions the validity of the science behind it.
“They claim without evidence that their island city will help the lake and are asking the people of Utah to give them an undisclosed amount of public land within and around the lake as compensation,” Abbott wrote. “Though LRS has disclosed few details about its island developments, leaked documents suggest they could make $11 billion from the land transfer alone.”
Abbott also accuses Lake Restorations Solutions of using “doublespeak and double standards,” making misleading comparisons between the Utah Lake Restoration Project and other dredging projects, and alleges that some members of the Lake Restoration Solutions team have a history of misusing public funds and ethical conflicts.
“As a scientist, I naively assumed that the Utah Lake debate would be decided by scientific evidence. The lawsuit forced me to take a much deeper look into the relationships behind the island proposal,” Abbott wrote, referencing litigation against him by Lake Restorations Solutions for his public comments. “As I dug into the background of the proponents, I was shocked and saddened by what I found. I hate personal attacks, but I believe these details are directly pertinent to the question of whether LRS is the right group to take the reins of Utah Lake restoration.”
Although Abbott is clearly wary of the Utah Lake Restoration Project, his July 17 post makes it clear he isn’t for an entirely hands-off restoration approach for the lake. He commended current restoration efforts being made on the lake such as the June Sucker Recovery Implementation Program, a multi-agency effort to promote the recovery of the formerly endangered June Sucker fish found only in Utah Lake.
“The June Sucker Recovery Implementation Program and the other really impressive efforts in and around the lake have made major progress, and there are even bigger milestones in view,” Abbott said. “I guess it’s a question of whether we have the commitment and vision to stay the course, or if we’re going to get distracted by a get-rich-quick miracle cure.”
According to Jon Benson, president, and CEO of Lake Restoration Solutions, the company is responding to a call to action from the Utah Legislature by creating what they believe to be a comprehensive restoration solution for many of the challenges that Utah Lake faces.
“Restoring Utah Lake and providing increased public benefit and recreational opportunities are critical priorities for the state of Utah. Legislation was passed in 2018 by the Utah State Legislature and updated in 2022 calling for action to address the interconnected and serious challenges Utah Lake faces,” Benson wrote in an email to the Daily Herald. “In response to that legislation, Lake Restoration Solutions has been working to provide a comprehensive solution to restore and enhance Utah Lake to improve its public trust benefits for Utahns.”
The Utah Lake Restoration Project is currently undergoing a federal review process to determine its environmental impacts. This process will likely take at least two more years to complete.
Benson maintains that the Utah Lake Restoration Project will benefit both Utah residents and the wildlife residing in Utah Lake and states that Lake Restoration Solutions welcomes public discourse regarding the project.
“The Utah Lake Restoration Project increases and improves habitat for waterfowl, fish and other wildlife, improves water quality, saves billions of gallons of water annually, increases access for recreation, and provides affordable and market-rate housing — all without an increase in taxes,” Benson wrote. “LRS welcomes public discourse and has entered into The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) framework to help ensure all voices will be heard.”
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