On Wednesday, January 16th 7 - 8:30 pm, join FRIENDS and a broad embrace of communities at Foxboro Elementary School (587 Foxboro Drive North Salt Lake) to find out more about what you can do to keep trucks from being allowed on the Legacy Parkway.

A panel will be moderated by Foxboro resident Angie Keeton.  Panelist will include:
State Senator Todd Weiler 
State Representative Melissa Garff Ballard
State Representative Raymond Ward
Jason Davis, Deputy Director, Utah Department of Transportation
Bryce Bird, Director, Utah Division of Air Quality'

In 2005, after a long legal battle that began in 2001 between the environmental community and federal agencies over the proposed 14 mile Legacy Highway that would impact highly productive wetlands along the eastern shore of Great Salt Lake in Davis County, a settlement was reached. The Legacy Highway would be built as a Legacy Parkway with 2 lanes in each direction, a quiet road surface, 55 mph speed limit, NO trucks and NO billboards, and an attractive/pedestrian trail with educational kiosks to enhance the experience for tail users that would run alongside the Parkway. All this next to a 2100 acre Legacy Nature Preserve to mitigate for impacts from building the road. Officially designated a Scenic Byway by the State, the only catch was that the truck ban would sunset January 1st, 2020!

Since the Parkway was completed, the road and the trail have become extremely popular for locals and people from all over the Wasatch Front. New developments with young families and children who are able to enjoy the amenities it provides have sprung up along the Parkway.

Fast forward to 2019 and we find ourselves in the era of the Inland Port. As that project is unfolding, there are a number of legislators who are anxious to bring trucks onto the Parkway by letting the ban lapse. Increasing the speed and eventually increasing the roadway capacity from 4 lanes to 6 lanes is also a goal. For obvious reasons these changes would completely alter the character of Legacy Parkway as we know it. Increased noise, impacts to air quality from trucks and diesel emissions, the increased likelihood of accidents because of vehicles moving at higher speeds, negative effects on the natural area, and the surrounding wildlife habitats, and most certainly a diminished quality of life for those residents who live along the right of way. Essentially, Legacy Parkway would become another I-15.

The cities of Woods Cross, Centerville and Farmington have signed resolutions stating they are against lifting the truck ban.  Senator Todd Weiler of Davis County filed a bill to uphold the truck ban. But we also have a responsibility to express our concerns about allowing trucks on Legacy Parkway. We must start contacting our legislators NOW to tell them that we don’t want trucks on the Legacy Parkway. We also need to contact the Senate leadership – Sen. Stuart Adams and Sen. Jerry Stevenson who are receptive to the January 1, 2020 settlement sunset. And add Senator Don Ipson from southern Utah to your list. He is CEO of DATS Trucking, a company located in North Salt Lake.

As the saying goes: Once it’s gone it’s gone.

You can find who your legislators are and their contact info at https://le.utah.gov/. Let’s use the public voice to save the Legacy Parkway!!

We hope to see you at the Open House to find out more about this issue.

Thanks.

 A unique form of vision is requisite when we attempt to truly understand Utah’s Great Salt Lake.  Where some see vast, empty expanses of lifeless water, others view a broad, painted landscape of reflections, as well as a hemispherical vital migratory ecosystem.   Some turn away from a stench in the air, while others revel in salty freshness mixed with microbial phytoplankton, algae, and brine shrimp, all working in complex symbioses.  And where some scoff at wastelands of deserted shores, others observe flora and fauna, moving in intricate balances linked to the rise and fall of the largest hypersaline terminal lake in the western hemisphere.

Open WaterThe scale of the Great Salt Lake is best described by our senses as we depart from shore in ocean kayaks.  My wife Deborah moves forward in front of me as I stop to photograph the flight of several Great Blue Herons, and when I look again, she is rapidly becoming a speck on a sea of water. The lake’s seventy-five mile by thirty-five mile breadth hides many horizons beneath the curvature of the earth.  I cannot see land beyond Deb’s kayak, and now she herself takes up only a tiny fraction of my view.  It’s time to catch up.

Beyond Deb’s kayak I see thousands of Eared Grebes that start as dots and meld into a smoke-like haze of life drifting at water level.  When I stop and listen, I hear the subdued rushing of wings and webbed feet, of dips and resurfacings.  The grebes are feeding on the brine flies and the brine shrimp.  Mixed in with the grebes are seagulls, several varieties of ducks, and the occasional cormorant, sailing above the water.  It’s migration season, and literally hundreds of species are apt to be visible on this September day.

Deb motions at a pair of Bald Eagles, and I can see a flock of White Pelicans moving far in the distance.  We’ve managed to enjoy an hour now without hearing the report of shotgun reverberating across the waters, but I know this serenity will not last.  Although I accept hunting, I do not grasp killing.  Many, many shooters are there just for the sport, just for the kill.  Utah is one of the last states where most outdoorsmen haven’t grasped the notion that one can also shoot wildlife with a camera.

I’m distracted from thoughts on arcane hunting practices when I notice a spit of land exposed that I’ve not seen before.  The lake is now only two feet from its lowest level on record.  Growing populations, water needs, and drought have wrought other changes.  Yet I know that few people consider this lake in the context of  Owens Lake, the Aral Sea, or Lake Urmia. 

Shortsightedness regarding the Great Salt Lake stems from several factors, one being a dearth of research done on the lake and its greater ecosystem.  Science largely overlooked this lake up until the late 1990s.  We are learning now, but there is much to know.  Why has the Great Salt Lake not been studied more?  Some say it’s because there aren’t many terminal lakes, so they don’t attract scientific attention.  Others claim that salt lakes are uninteresting, limited in the numbers of species they harbor.  And of course vast, shallow salt lakes seem to have little economic impact—money drives science.

But as I paddle forward, I can see the tiny plume of smoke coming from the magnesium plant twenty miles to the west.   And I know that to my north, a 45,000 acre evaporation plant is producing six million tons of salt each year.  Another company creates vast stores of fertilizer from the lake’s brine shrimp.  The lake supplies 1.3 billion dollars in economy to the state, and it provides 7,700 jobs.  The lake is rich in life and minerals, and the impacts of harvesting are being felt before the science of the lake is fully understood.

Sunset Perspective

I move alongside Deb and we stroke side by side on glass.  It’s a perfectly calm morning.  Reflected in the mirror of water are clouds floating above the blue lines of distant mountains.  We are paddling through a sublime painting, vast and colorful, ever changing. 

            “Did you hear the Grebes?”  Deb asks.

            “Yes, when I stopped to photograph you disappearing in the distance.  It was remarkable.”

            “There must be thousands of them.”

            “Yep.  And the eagles, thanks for the heads up.”

We move with even strokes toward our destination:  out there somewhere.  Soon we’ll stop, five or six miles from shore, and just float for a while, listening to the sounds, soaking up the silences.  No other boats are out today.  Few boats travel these waters.  The salt is hard on motors, the shallow bottom difficult for keels, and at this low, low level, “The World’s Saltiest Sailors” of the Great Salt Lake Yacht Club must hope for rain and snow in the mountains—hope for the lake to rise again.

            “I just poked for the bottom.  It’s only four feet deep here.”

            “Imagine a big windstorm and four foot waves.  Or rather, don’t!” she smiles back at me.

            We paddle on in silence for a time. “Sure hope this lake doesn’t dry up in my lifetime.”

            “Those windstorms we’ve been having with this drought would have some pretty scary minerals to throw around in our air.  Gives a new meaning to downwinders doesn’t it?”

            “Wow, that’s another factor I hadn’t thought about.  I was still on the snow and Ski City USA wavelength.”

Just last week the local news reported two stories in one newscast.  The first was the Utah Travel Council vying for the name of Ski City USA, proclaiming as always that the Wasatch Mountains have the greatest snow on earth.  The second reported the Bear River Water Conservancy’s plans to divert enough water—220,000 acre feet per year—to cause the lake to drop a foot or more.  The irony?  The greatest snow comes directly from evaporation of the warm lake lifting over the escarpment of the Wasatch Range.  If the lake dries up . . . Ski City might become an ecological misnomer.

It’s difficult to think about economy, jobs, and pressures as we paddle through our painting.  I hear a second distant shotgun blast, which sharply focuses reality.    I’m grateful for the Division of Wildlife Resources Rangers.  They attempt to keep the hunters and poachers away from our beloved Antelope Island State Park, the sanctuary from which we often launch our kayaks while the bison, antelope, and coyotes curiously watch us.

We’ve stopped paddling and are sliding smoothly forward, slowing.  Deb has noticed a distant line of darker blue on the water’s surface, maybe a mile off.  It’s the first sign of the breeze  we expect to come from the North.  It’s time to settle on the water for a time.  Another flock of birds flies high overhead.  They are not geese, but perhaps White Faced Ibis?  Deb thinks they are swans and takes out her binoculars.  Naturally, she is right.

Sunset Perspective 2

I look back to Antelope Island, reflected perfectly on the lake’s surface.  Another group of cormorants moves over the water, flying inches above the surface.  Beyond them I catch the graceful sweep of two Great Blue Herons, gliding with seeming effortlessness.  They too seem to be riding a thin cushion of air just above the surface of the water.

I close my eyes and listen to the distant grebes, the even more distant California Gulls on Egg Island.  The air is pure and sweet.  It’s only along the shores that one smells the chemistry of The Great Salt Lake.  Once on the water, it’s as fresh as ocean breezes.  This is one more of our little secrets.  With my eyes closed, I taste the salt on my lips and feel the slight grittiness of salt on my paddle.  When we return today I must wade in and bob like a cork for a few minutes.  One can stand straight upright in the water without stroking, without sinking.   My swim trunks can later stand by themselves after they dry if I forget to rinse them out.

The breeze has caught us, and tiny riffles appear around our kayaks.  Without speaking, we lift our small sails and begin gliding homeward.  The gifts of wildlife, solitude, and beauty rest easily in our minds.  But how long can this place keep on giving in such a manner?  We belong to the conservation organizations:  Friends of the Great Salt Lake, Sierra Club, Utah Wilderness.   We purchase a state parks pass each year.  And yet it seems like we do so little amidst the pressures of industry, hunting, water, development and above all, climate change.  And of course we write.  At least we can say, if the day dawns with malevolent dusts sweeping a dry lake bottom, at least we can say we did something, and we did it with passion.

Thursday, 03 January 2019 15:38

Employment Opportunity: Education Coordinator

FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake Seeking Education & Coordinator

 

 

Please join the Weber River Partnership for Confluence 2019 - Our Annual Weber River Symposium

This is our annual opportunity to come together as stakeholders in the Weber River Watershed and discuss emerging opportunities and challenges, and to learn about successes and accomplishments within the basin during the previous year. This year our theme is "Resiliency in an Uncertain Future."We will host several sessions covering topics including resiliency of our water supplies, sustaining the watershed's agricultural resources and heritage, restoring our fisheries, and enhancing our communities. We will hear from over 20 presenters discussing topics such as agricultural sustainability, the economic value of our waterways, maintaining flows in streams during unprecedented drought, and potential changes in water policy.

Click here for more information. 

If you missed any of the wonderful presentations at the Salt Lake County Watershed Symposium, they are now available online through the following link:

Watershed Symposium Presentations

By Taylor Stevens, Salt Lake Tribune

Concerned about the impact a planned development in Salt Lake City’s westernmost area could have on a truck-free highway in Davis County, a group of community advocates urged the Inland Port Authority Board to support efforts to preserve the road as it is.

In a letter addressed to the board and delivered to members at their meeting on Wednesday, the group raised concerns that the planned inland port development will be used as an excuse to add trucks to Legacy Parkway — a roadway that abuts wildlife and currently has a speed of just 55 mph.

“We have little understanding of what the ultimate development plan for the proposed ‘inland port’ is, or even how all of you define ‘inland port’ — but everyone seems to agree that the Northwest Quadrant of Salt Lake City will take years to develop,” the letter says. “Let’s not use a speculative project — the inland port — as a justification to turn the Legacy Parkway into a highway.”

Members of the inland port board didn’t indicate during the meeting whether they would be supportive of truck traffic on Legacy Parkway.

The 15-year truck ban deal, initially drawn up to end lawsuits by environmental groups against the highway, will expire on Jan. 1, 2020, and the state is then free to raise the speed limit or look at widening the roadway. Lawmakers could also decide to extend the deal and preserve existing conditions.

Click here to continue reading.

By Robert Gehrke, Salt Lake Tribune

The notion behind the Legacy Parkway was for it to be kinder and gentler than the average highway.

That’s evident in the noise-dampening asphalt, the 55 mph speed limit, and the bike paths and bridges that run along the road. There are also no billboards. And, perhaps most notable, there is a ban on big rigs.

All of this was done to protect the wetlands and the critters that called those expanses home and to assuage the concerns of environmental groups and resolve costly and time-consuming litigation.

Over the past 15 years, it has worked out pretty well for everyone involved. Developments have cropped up along the parkway in a way you don’t really see along a typical interstate. It has been designated as a scenic byway and the wetlands have, to a large degree, been preserved.

However, the big truck ban, as my colleague Lee Davidson reported this week, will expire Jan. 1, 2020. Then what?

Well, the Utah Trucking Association wants Legacy open to tractor-trailers and contends that it was always the plan for the road to be available to them once the 15-year moratorium sunsets.

The city councils in Woods Cross and Farmington are not enthused about that concept, passing resolutions recently to extend the truck moratorium.

Sen. Todd Weiler, who represents much of that area, said he plans to sponsor legislation to extend the big-rig ban. He really only has one shot, since the upcoming session will be the last before parts of the compromise sunset.

But he anticipates there will be opposition from the trucking association. One of its leading arguments is that it would be easier and make more sense for trucks to use Legacy to get goods into and out of the inland port.

The problem is that we don’t even know what that inland port is going to look like and how much rail traffic versus truck traffic will be moving into and out of this future shipping hub. We probably won’t know those answers for a few years.

Moreover, in the past decade, thousands of Utahns have built homes and lives along the highway. Condominiums and houses were built to face the highway — and the Great Salt Lake — largely because of the parkway design.

There are grass berms instead of big, ugly concrete sound walls that we typically see along urban interstates, adding to the quasi-pastoral — as pastoral as a highway can be — qualities of Legacy.

“I think it’s an asset and amenity in their community and they shouldn’t have to give that up,” said Roger Borgenicht of Utahns for Better Transportation, an advocate for keeping Legacy as-is.

Ultimately, Legacy’s future may come down to two other Davis County legislators — incoming House Speaker Brad Wilson and Senate President-elect Stuart Adams.

Click here to continue reading.

By Lee Davidson, Salt Lake Tribune

Legacy Parkway in Davis County is a different sort of freeway.

It bans trucks. The speed limit is just 55 mph. Its mere two lanes in each direction have rubberized pavement to dampen sound — all designed to help adjacent wetlands and wildlife.

But that could change dramatically in a little more than a year, on Jan. 1, 2020.

That is when a 15-year deal expires, initially drawn up to end lawsuits by environmental groups against the highway. The truck ban will disappear that day, and the state is then free to raise the speed limit or look at widening the roadway.

But the Legislature could extend the deal, or parts of it, and preserve existing conditions. Some cities along the 11.5-mile route and environmental groups are pushing for the extension when the Legislature convenes next month.

Sen. Todd Weiler, R-Woods Cross, is drafting legislation to extend the truck ban. But he says, “I expect it will face significant opposition because of the new inland port” in northwest Salt Lake City likely creating more truck traffic and a need to handle it.

Click here to continue reading.

Proposal for Union Pacific Railroad Communal Track to Serve Promontory Point Industries Lacks Necessary Details and Raises Red Flags

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

The Wizard of Oz

On August 7th, 2018, the Union Pacific Railroad (Union Pacific) submitted partial information to the Army Corps of Engineers (the Corps) for a Pre-application Meeting on August 21st.  The meeting was intended to support Union Pacific’s request that the Corps authorize a Letter of Permission (LOP) for proposed “minor impacts” – less than one acre - to aquatic resources of the U.S. under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, and/or to navigable waters under Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act.  These impacts would come from the construction of a communal track (industrial siding) at the Lakeside Subdivision on the Promontory Peninsula to support industry rail service on Promontory Point in Box Elder County, Utah. The estimated time to complete the project is 3 to 4 months.

For obvious reasons, whenever impacts to Great Salt Lake wetlands and waters are being considered, FRIENDS wants to know more about the issue. The Great Salt Lake Ecosystem is hemispherically important, ecological critical, and economically significant. Any proposals that could jeopardize the integrity of the system are always of great concern. Because the LOP process is tailored for small projects with “minor impacts” it’s streamlined. The Corps isn’t required to issue a public notice for public participation. Instead federal and state agencies are involved on behalf of the public interest. Under these circumstances, the applicant is required to provide a complete proposal two weeks in advance of the pre-application meeting to give the agencies adequate time to review it. Right out of the gate Union Pacific failed to meet this requirement. For starters, the proposal failed to include a complete description of the proposed activity including the purpose and need of the activity.

On August 10th FRIENDS filed an Expedited Freedom of Information Act Request with the Corps of Engineers. We wanted to review the pre-application information that would be discussed. We also requested a list of the invitees because we wanted to be sure that the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands (which has jurisdictional management responsibility for Great Salt Lake), the Division of Water Quality, the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control, and a representative from the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council (which advises the governor on Great Salt Lake issues) were also included. Except for the Division of Water Quality, the others were not on the list until we suggested them.

Our primary concerns with the proposal focus on the rationale and the process for authorization. What we saw in the pre-application information did not reflect the true scope of the proposed project because given where it is and its adjacency to Great Salt Lake, there’s no question that it would exceed the limits of “minor impacts.” This means that it doesn’t fit with the process that’s necessary for the Corps to issue a Letter of Permission. It doesn’t comply with meeting all of the criteria identified in an August 1, 2001 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Public Notice Implementation of Minor Impact Letter of Permission (LOP) Procedures in Utah, and with EPA’s 404(b)(1) Guidelines.

The other concern about it comes from our work on tracking the Promontory Point Resources, LLC (PPR) landfill on Promontory Peninsula (see Spring 2018 newsletter). In its application for a Class V permit that would allow it to take out of state waste, PPR stated that a railroad spur to move inventory onto the site would be needed. And although on February 16, 2018, PPR withdrew its Class V permit application, at that time under review by the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control, rail access to that facility might make taking another run at it more attractive even though other obstacles still remain. Among those obstacles is a failing grade on its Needs Assessment Report which is used to determine whether another Class V landfill is even needed in Utah. With over 1000 years storage capacity among the existing facilities, that base is well covered. However, through the grapevine we have heard that an attempt to legislatively eliminate this evaluative criterion from the Administrative Rule puts a finer point on Union Pacific’s proposal.

You may recall that in response to PPR’s Class V application the Division was presented with a White Paper titled Great Salt Lake as an Ecologically Significant Natural Area by the Great Salt Lake Institute at Westminster College. This reference tool is intended to help enlighten the Division about the kinds of cumulative impacts this operation could have on the Lake and how much is at stake with this kind of adjacent land use.

So what’s there and what’s missing in the proposal?

The pre-application proposal is described as a “small construction activity” of less than 5 acres in scope. The construction of the communal track would consist of a new 1.2 mi. long parallel track with a western and eastern terminus located 115 ft. north of the existing mainline track. The mainline track we’re talking about here is the 21 mi. Union Pacific causeway that bisects Great Salt Lake and for about 5 miles runs around the tip of Promontory Peninsula where this activity would occur. Since the best design and exact location of the construction was based on accommodating the proposed rail car length, turning radius, and access to the industrial spurs referenced in the text and diagrams, it doesn’t seem likely that even this stepsister’s foot is going to fit into Cinderella’s shoe for a LOP authorization.

A July 27th aquatic resources delineation report identifies general cover types as playa and saline wet meadows. The proposal suggests that permanent wetland impacts to saline wet meadows from fill to construct the communal track would be less than one acre, or as indicated in Table 1. Permanent Wetland Impacts – a total of 0.994 acres. This is only 0.006 acres below the highest threshold for a Letter of Permission. That’s 260 square feet (how big is your livingroom?) Again, under the circumstances of where this activity would be happening, it’s inconceivable to think that secondary and cumulative impacts to wetlands and playas would not occur.

The proposal indicates that the design of the track is such that it avoids impacts to the playa part of the shoreline of the Lake. And although it claims that no hydrological connections will be impacted by the project, no proof other than surface observations is provided. We know that ample research exists that confirms that areas and wetlands around the Great Salt Lake have extensive hydrological connections. Much more is needed to show that there would be no impacts to springs, aquatic habitat, migratory bird breeding areas, threatened or endangered species, or the management of water flows that are a part of the interface of the landscape of Promontory and the Lake.

It’s stated that reseeding of peripheral vegetation would be addressed if necessary. And that best management practices would help avoid and minimize impacts. Mitigation between 1:1 and 2:1 to compensate for permanent wetland impacts would come from the purchase of saline wet meadow credits from the Machine Lake mitigation bank. However, the mitigation bank is meant to replace “isolated wetlands of minimal or degraded use” which these wetlands are neither. They are a part of a large and vital ecosystem. 

Soil erosion, sediment controls and permits for storm water discharges would be covered by Section 402 of the Clean Water Act and the Storm water Pollution Prevention Plan, although Union Pacific may apply for an “erosivity construction waiver” because of the “abbreviated” nature of the construction. A 401 Certification through the Division of Water Quality would also be required.

After careful analysis of the Implementation of Minor Impact Letter of Permission (LOP) Procedures in Utah, and EPA’s 404(b)(1) Guidelines our conclusion is that Union Pacific has failed to identify whether this activity qualifies as a “single and complete activity”, and is trying to segment out the cumulative impacts of this project by focusing only on the construction of the  “communal track”. This is intended to keep the designated impacts under the 1-acre threshold for a Letter of Permission, while ignoring what they’ve clearly designated as the “future rail connections.” By designating those connections as “future work by others” they appear to be trying to play a bit of a shell game with the Corps in order to avoid having to run the gauntlet for an Individual Permit authorization.

Forgive me for this exhaustive description and analysis of this proposal. Ironically, I could go on, but it’s important that we all recognize how much could go wrong and what this means to the Lake.

FRIENDS believes that this proposal should not be authorized under a Letter of Permission by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This proposal and the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem are worthy of the rigor, the scrutiny, and the public participation that an Individual Permit process would require.

In saline,

Lynn de Freitas, Executive Director

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Why We Care

  • Somewhere there should be a place for artists and tourists—if no one else is interested—to watch the gulls wheel into a flaming sunset and to ripple their hands in the smooth brine.

    George Dibble, "Deserted Site Remains Tourist Artist Mecca," Salt Lake Tribune, 1961