Utahns rally on Capitol Hill to protest Utah Lake development

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BYU ecology professor Ben Abbott joins more than 500 concerned Utahns in a rally at the Utah State Capitol Building. Citizens protested development of man-made islands on Utah Lake. (Decker Westenburg)

More than 500 concerned Utahns gathered in front of the Utah State Capitol Building on Feb. 7 to protest development of man-made islands on Utah Lake.

The rally, organized by nonprofit group Conserve Utah Valley, encouraged citizens to keep speaking out against development and reflected appreciation for the lake and its history. Conserve Utah Valley leaders, Timpanogos Nation Chief Executive Mary Murdock Meyer and BYU professor Ben Abbott spoke during the event, along with state legislators.

Citizens are responding directly to the Utah Lake Restoration Project, which would dredge the bottom of Utah Lake and remove nutrient-loaded sediments that feed toxic algae blooms, according to its proposal. Developers would turn dredged material into islands “strategically engineered and placed to control wind and wave action on the Lake, expand fish and wildlife habitat, protect shorelines and reduce evaporation.”

Abbott was named in a lawsuit alleging he made defamatory statements about the project. He spoke at the event next to other scientists who signed a letter urging local, state and federal leaders to oppose it. They cited issues including disregard of available science, unprecedented size and scope of the project and inadequate expertise.

Utah Lake is “our sacred trust,” Abbott said. “It is such a unique and glorious ecosystem that we have been entrusted with. And it is our responsibility to leave it better for future generations.”

He thanked those who have donated to his legal defense fund and encouraged participants to reach out to their representatives and senators about concerns.

Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, Sen. Curtis Bramble, R-Provo and Rep. Nelson Abbott, R-Orem, later explained a new House bill designed to facilitate public input and transparency in Utah Lake decisions. HB240, sponsored by Stratton, would modify authority given to the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands over Utah Lake.

“There is a great treasure that we have at the center of Utah Valley, that wonderful lake,” Stratton said. “It’s a treasure that we need to protect and enhance. I think we all agree the remediation is needed.”

Meyer shared how the Timpanogos tribe used to drink Utah Lake’s water and use it for cooking and cleaning. The lake meant survival for her people and the pioneers when they arrived. “To drink it today might not be a good idea,” she said. “But that’s why we’re here.”

Utah Lake has been used as a dumping ground and suffered from neglect for many years, Meyer said. But she encouraged Utahns to restore it to its original state.

“We must bring healing to these waters. We must carefully and prayerfully move forward,” she said.

BYU biology professor Byron Adams sings “This Land is Your Land” at the rally. (Decker Westenburg)
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