It’s hard to believe, but five years ago today, the Utah Lake Commission held its first meeting as an officially recognized organization. We have asked Lewis K. Billings, the founding chairman of the Commission and former mayor of Provo City to record the early history that eventually led to the creation of the Utah Lake Commission. He was very instrumental in guiding the efforts that caused us to turn our attention to the lake and ultimately created the Commission.
It was the spring of 2004. Just two years before, Utah had hosted the Olympic Winter Games. The Utah Valley region was bustling with economic development opportunity and experiencing another decade of record population growth. The demand for developable land to accommodate new housing had reached a fervor most had never experienced pushing developers to look at lands previously considered sensitive or undevelopable, including lands next to or near Utah Lake.
In this period of growth and excitement, there were many conflicting voices calling for various forms of action. One group called for immediate action that would lead to the restoration of Utah Lake. Counter advocates responded there was no need to restore the Lake. Others wanted key community stakeholders to get behind projects aimed at protecting endangered species in the Lake. Opponents of that agenda protested saying such efforts were unnecessary and would ultimately serve to tie the hands of those trying to manage the affairs of the various growing communities in the Region. There was a host of other Utah Lake-related issues under consideration during this period including: private versus public ownership boundary issues, water quality concerns, frustration over the policies determining the average level of the Lake from year-to-year, etc.
As passionate factions on one side of these various issues approached Federal, State and Local elected officials, it was clear experts from the various voices involved could not agree on almost anything. During a Utah County Council of Governments meeting, one group had requested the Council formally issue a proclamation in support of that group’s position. Some present quickly refuted the information and facts that had been presented and the Council declined to take a position. Thereafter, it seemed there was a steady stream of requests seeking the endorsement of elected officials for one position or another relating to these various issues. Most officials wanted to take action and do something, but it was obvious there was a great deal of information needed and too many unanswered questions.
In March, 2004, faced with the reality that pending actions of various unrelated and uncorrelated parties could substantially reduce the options for the future use, management, and protection of Utah Lake, the Council passed a motion establishing a task force. This task force was to look at what might be done to bring all interested parties together to seek solutions and effectively sort through conflicting facts, to establish a strategic priority for assessing problems, to identify who should play the key leadership and oversight roles for such an initiative and determine how it would be funded.
Months and months, of hard work and discussion ensued. At times, it seemed few, if any, of the conflicting parties were willing to sit down and talk with each other and so representatives of the Task Force began to meet individually with representatives of the various interest groups. The Task Force also sought the advice of key planning and land use professionals including those at Envision Utah, Utah Governor’s Office of Budget and Planning, Stan Postma, and others.
From the very beginning of this process, all realized the State of Utah was the legal owner of the bottom of Utah Lake and they really didn’t need to consult with or ask for permission of any Local or other State entity as they pursued their oversight of this valuable natural resource. Many were concerned the State of Utah would have strong reservations with any proposal that could interfere with the State playing its important role. It was decided representatives of the Task Force should meet with Mike Styler – Director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources. Those who attended the meeting reported afterward, “Mr. Styler shares our passion, understands our challenges and he and the State of Utah are willing to help.” It was a monumental “break-through” moment.
As members of the Task Force evaluated the collective counsel and input they had received, it was decided that Utah Lake was an important asset that needed more focused attention. A forum was created to encourage and generate:
- Consistent regional communication between all interested parties,
- Cooperative policy development and planning focused on the use, protection and development of the lands surrounding Utah Lake, and
- Other agreed to priorities.
The Task Force immediately launched a national “Best Practices” search looking for examples of how other jurisdictions had dealt with similar circumstances. Two of the best ones identified included the Lake Tahoe Regional Authority and the Bear Lake Commission. Representatives of the Task Force were assigned to meet with key players from both entities. The Lake Tahoe Authority was an impressive model, but created a new governmental regulatory entity with specific authority to determine zoning, assess taxes, and levy fees. The Bear Lake Commission model focused on bringing the right people together, determining the issues with highest priority, collectively identifying the best experts to advise those involved and then supporting their individual member entities as they determined on their own what actions should be taken to accomplish specific tasks.
Task Force members voted unanimously in favor of the Bear Lake model and quickly set out to prepare a proposal calling for a Commission, with limited staff and funding. The “Commission” would work cooperatively together to become the “Utah Lake Expert” who could then advise Federal, State, County, and Local elected officials as well as developers and other stakeholders as to the issues related to the effective use and management of Utah Lake. The proposal called for regular meetings of a governing board with an elected official representing each member entity. A few well-intended critics argued for a board structure comprised of mostly non-elected-official representatives from the various Utah Lake-related community interests groups, citing a similar effort had failed earlier because they believed the matter had been largely left up to appointed/elected officials. After further consideration, the Task Force opted to go with elected officials due to the broad accountability and uniform representation that accompanies the elected office with each elected official representing all voices within their respective jurisdictions.
Recognizing many of the issues a new Commission would face would be highly technical, the Task Force proposal also called for the creation of a Technical Committee, comprised of a technical professional from each member entity. Under the able leadership of Bruce Chesnut and Greg Beckstrom, the Technical Committee quickly proved to be of immense value as they were able to bring a tremendous focus of technical expertise as well as general knowledge and cooperation to the Commission, which otherwise may have never existed. Many feel the long-term success of the established Commission will be largely dependent on the quality of the work carried out by the Technical Committee.
Alan Harrison, Executive Director of the Bear Lake Commission, had told Task Force members, “You won’t see the kind of progress and action you want until there is someone who gets out of bed every morning with the focus of moving your Utah Lake agenda forward.” Most of the members of the Task Force were highly conservative and were not anxious to do anything that would unnecessarily result in larger government, but the committee agreed with Mr. Harrison. The importance of this work and the urgency for it to be accomplished were just too compelling not to have someone working full time to orchestrate all of the details necessary to make it happen.
As the concept of a Commission advanced from theory to reality, Clyde Naylor, Utah County Engineer and one of the key players throughout the whole process of the Commission’s creation, stepped up to play the key role as the Commission’s Interim Executive Director. Under his leadership and during that first year, the Technical Committee began its important work identifying and ranking key priorities. There were numerous conflicts and differences facilitated. Regular meetings, with time for public comment, were established and the entire community was invited to offer their best input. During one of the regular meetings of the Commission, members boarded a bus and held their meeting as the bus transited the full perimeter of Utah Lake. As the bus passed through the various jurisdictions, each respective board member was invited to talk about the issues relating to Utah Lake with which they were dealing. Mr. Naylor will long be remembered for his leadership and the pioneering work he accomplished on behalf of the Commission as well as Utah County. On July 26, 2007, the Commission hired Reed Price as its Executive Director. He has continued that same leadership.
In a spirit of unanimous consent, during the early part of 2007, the Utah County Council of Governments approved the form of a proposed Interlocal Agreement to be signed by the various entities with interest in and around Utah Lake. On March 9, 2007, representatives of the founding entities met at Utah Lake State Park with Utah Governor Jon L. Huntsman, Jr. with the authority to execute the Interlocal Agreement on behalf of their respective entities. Those who signed include:
- Mayor Heber M. Thompson, American Fork City
- Mayor Eric Hazelet, Genola Town
- Mayor Jay W. Franson, Highland City
- Mayor Howard W. Johnson, Lehi City
- Mayor Jeff Acerson, Lindon City
- Mayor M. James Brady, Mapleton City
- Mayor Jerry Washburn, Orem City
- Mayor Mike W. Daniels, Pleasant Grove City
- Mayor Lewis K. Billings, Provo City
- Mayor James E. DeGraffenried, Santaquin City
- Mayor Timothy L. Parker, Saratoga Springs
- Mayor Gene R. Mangum, Springville City
- Mayor Randy Farnworth, Vineyard Town
- Mayor Toby Harding, Woodland Hills Town
- Chairman Randal R. McKee, Central Utah Water Conservancy District
- Steve White, Utah County Chair, Board of Commissioners
Some of the key accomplishments of the Commission since its first meeting on April 19, 2007 include the creation of the Utah Lake Master Plan, which was completed in June, 2009. This guiding document depicts a vision of what our community wants Utah Lake to become in the future. It identifies numerous goals and objectives to achieve that vision and provides a framework to work toward accomplishing the numerous goals and objectives identified. The Commission has been continually working toward achieving these goals and continues to encourage and work with its member agencies to focus on their important roles.
The Commission has also initiated a public outreach effort to help educate our community about the value of Utah Lake and to help the lake overcome some common misperceptions that have been passed from generation to generation. It has done this by creating curriculum for elementary school and junior high students that teach core concepts using the lake as the object lesson. A new website has been created and is updated with interesting and fun stories about how the lake is being used and improved. The Commission is also a regular sponsor of the Utah Lake Festival which allows families to experience the lake, many for the first time. This event is held on the first Saturday of each June.
Significant progress has been made in removing invasive plant and animal species from the lake and its shoreline. Though not the lead agency, the Commission has provided support to the carp removal effort at the lake. It has also provided and sought funding through grants for the significant effort to rid the shoreline of invasive plants including phragmites, Russian olive and tamarisk. To date, almost 400 acres have been treated and an additional 750 acres are targeted later this year.
Another recent accomplishment was the creation of a model shoreline ordinance. This planning document has been offered to all of the communities that abut Utah Lake as a means to achieve the objectives of the Utah Lake Master Plan. It recommends that cities consider adopting an overlay zone that will protect sensitive lake resources and provide public access for recreational, public safety, and invasive species management purposes. To date, Lindon and American Fork cities have adopted ordinances to do this. The Commission continues to work with the other communities as they consider similar actions.
The Commission’s key objectives for the next 18 months include:
Continue encouraging Commission members through effective communication,
- Expand outreach and education efforts to enhance public perception,
- Begin treatment of 750 acres of phragmites between the Utah Lake State Park and Provo Bay,
- Assist communities in implementing the Utah Lake Overlay Zone,
- Work with the State of Utah to improve existing access to the lake,
- Work with the State of Utah to obtain additional access to the lake,
- Support sovereign lands boundary negotiations,
- Coordinate with the State of Utah as they consider creating rules to permit private docks on the lake,
- Participate in water quality monitoring efforts.
- Identify the needs of the Powell Slough Wildlife Management Area, and
- Communicate with UDOT and MAG on current and upcoming transportation projects affecting the lake.
Even though the membership of the Commission includes the State of Utah, Utah County and two of the largest cities in the State, the issues and work needed to provide an effective future for Utah Lake is larger than the capacity of any of its individual stakeholders. In its first five years of collaboration, the Commission has accomplished much for the general benefit of Utah Lake and the people of Utah who care about and revere this exceptional natural resource as well as for those who have yet to discover the magic of this unique and wonderful public asset.
The Utah Lake Commission is an effective example of Regional Collaboration. For more information search this website for Master Plan, and read the insightful articles already posted.
Photo Information: This photo was taken in November, 2009 and includes many of the founding members of the Utah Lake Commission Governing Board.