By Christina Loforti
Some landowners have placed “No Trespassing” signs in the waters of Provo Bay, causing alarm for lake users.
On Tuesday, July 22, concerned lake users announced they had joined the state of Utah in a lawsuit against private landowners of Utah Lake.
Gathered at the shores of Utah Lake, the lake users stressed their support for preserving public ownership of the lake.
“These submerged lands are important to all citizens of Utah,” said Jeff Salt, the executive director for the Great Salt Lake Audubon. “They provide valuable public access for a variety of recreational uses and activities while supporting wildlife habitats. If these lands are handed over to private interests, access to popular areas like Provo Bay, Lincoln Beach and Pelican Point will be jeopardized.”
The state of Utah currently owns the bed of Utah Lake up to 4481 feet above sea level.
As part of the lawsuit, the state and lake users want to reestablish the high-water mark at a lower elevation, placing nearly 20,000 inundated acres into public hands.
Glenn Foreman, owner of Mud Buddy in West Jordan, said the privatization of Utah Lake has him concerned about his water recreation business.
“Blocked or limited access to Provo Bay will impact my business and the recreation of our customers,” Foreman said. “Customers will no longer be able to hunt and fish there.”
Joro Walker, an attorney with the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies representing the lake users, said the agreement violates the Public Trust Law.
“This violates the state”s obligation to hold Utah Lake in trust for the citizens of Utah,” she said.
In other words, lake users do not want public access denied to any part of Utah Lake.
The groups also claim other landowners have threatened to put up dikes or fences, restricting public access.
In addition, some landowners have expressed a desire to drain parts of the lake for farming purposes.
To date, Utah has settled the boundary for Utah Lake for approximately 74 percent of the shoreline. However, more than 50 landowners have yet to settle.
J. Rulon Gammon, mayor of Vineyard and a Utah Lake property owner, said his property rights are at stake.
“I am American first,” Gammon said. “I believe in private property rights.”
Gammon said the elevation was agreed upon in the past by both state and landowner attorneys.
“It is a redundant process to reinvent the wheel again,” he said.
Rep. Stephen Clark, R-Provo, said it was unfortunate the issue has come so far without adequate public input.
“While I am not prepared to make a judgment on either side, I think it is a great folly that this has gone on for many years without the public knowing about it,” he said. “I hope we can come to a compromise that all parties can agree with that will protect the public”s rights.”
A hearing for the case is scheduled for Oct. 8.