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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Join us December 3rd from 7:00-8:30 PM at the Bill & Vieve Gore School of Business Auditorium at Westminster College to hear updates from our Techinical Advisory Group.

WestminsterFlyer 2018.11.16

The Bear: Life and Death of a Western River

Chapter IV — Dissolution

by Leia Larsen, Standard Examiner

The Bear is the longest North American river that doesn't end in the sea.

Its mouth is at the Great Salt Lake, America's Dead Sea, the bottom of a terminal basin. But even as it ends, the Bear River supports life and livelihoods.

Its waters diffuse into abundant wetlands that support millions of migrating waterfowl and shorebirds. It has carved minerals from mountains over millennia, which have concentrated in the Great Salt Lake and now support multi-million dollar extraction industries. Its nutrients feed algae in the lake, which in turn feed an abundance of brine shrimp. 

"Bear River is such a critical life-giving source for people and wildlife — all along its path — and ultimately as the greatest source of water for Great Salt Lake," said Marcelle Shoop, director of the Saline Lakes Program for the National Audubon Society.

The Bear is Great Salt Lake's largest tributary, bringing it 60 percent of its annual inflows.

But mid-October this autumn, the river instead disappeared into a vast mudflat that used to be Bear River Bay.

John Luft, director of the Great Salt Lake Ecosystem Program, has worked on the lake for 20 years. He had never seen it like this, in mid-October, so late past the end of irrigation season.

"There’s essentially nothing out there. Usually this time of year, there’s ... millions of birds out there. There basically were none," he said.

Click here to continue.

By Emma Penrod, Sierra Magazine

It’s early autumn and the reeds surrounding me are mostly dead, but they still sound very much alive, filled with the rush of the breeze, creaking insects, and the shy songs of birds.

My guide, long-time Utah birdwatcher and Audubon Council president John Bellmon, tells me that my keen ear, which hears elusive bird calls all around us, is a gift. Many people bird by ear, he says—you learn to identify the bird songs then follow the sound to its source for a glimpse of a new feathered friend to add to your “life list.”

I am not so easily convinced I have an aptitude for the hobby given my difficulty in actually locating birds of any note. I detect some movement in the reeds across a pond, prompting Bellmon to set up his sighting scope and peer inside. Mallard ducks, he declares. They’re the most common type of duck in Utah—nothing to write home about.

Not that home, for me, is very far.

I have lived in Utah my entire life, but I have never tried birdwatching—despite the fact that the state’s iconic Great Salt Lake is hemispheric mecca for birds. Millions of them—entire species, in some cases—rely on the wetland habitats that surround the lake. 

This remarkable landscape is rarely celebrated by the locals. Even life-long residents are often unaware of the natural resource in their backyard. Because of this disconnect, few are aware of plans for urbanization that stand to impact 11,000 to 15,000 acres of wetland habitat in northern Utah in the next few decades.

Galvanized by these threats, conservationists have banded together to help the public connect to their surroundings. That’s what has brought me to Farmington Bay on the southeast shore of the Great Salt Lake—the newly opened Eccles Wildlife Education Center, Bellmon had told me, was the perfect place for a first-time birdwatching lesson.

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Monday, 15 October 2018 12:35

Fall Fundraiser Was A Briny Success

Thank you to the attendees, sponsors, and participants of FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake's Fall Fundraiser, "Protection Through Partnerships." 

The evening was a briny success, featuring craft cocktails from Dented Brick Distillery, beer from RedRock Brewery, and dinner from Culinary Crafts.

This year's featured partner, Chris Cline of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services – Utah Field Office, offered a timely update of essential Great Salt Lake research. 

Anna Hansen of The Hex Press was on site printing tea towels and shirts with our custom FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake logo design. Our silent auction featured local goods and once-in-a-lifetime experiences. 

Thank you to our generous donors and thank you for recommitting yourselves to preserving and protecting Great Salt Lake. 

Click here to view photos from the event. All photographs by Charles Uibel of Great Salt Lake Photography. 

Click here to make an additional donation and help us reach our fundraising goal. 

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Why We Care

  • We suggest that Great Salt Lake is a phenomenal asset to the state of Utah. Its mineral resources have been appreciated for almost 150 years. Brine shrimp are now appreciated because they are economically valuable. To only a very limited extent is the lake appreciated for tourism, for culture, for earth systems history and for education. 

    Scientific Review Committee, Comments to the Great Salt Lake Management Planning Team, 1999