Supporters of the controversial Lake Wasatch project have scaled down their original legislative bill and apparently have the approval of Gov. Norm Bangerter for lake feasibility studies.
As rewritten, the bill - HB208, sponsored by Rep. Stanley Smedley, R-Bountiful - now would only authorize studies.Before the $80 million to $90 million project could be constructed, revenue bonds would be issued. Under the new wording, before bonds could be issued, the Legislature, governor and residents of the bonding district would have to approve.
Lake Wasatch is projected as more than twice the size of Lake Powell and is imagined as a wonderland of recreational development. It would be created by building 16 miles of deep-water concrete dikes running north and south through the Great Salt Lake. The dikes would capture the fresh water that flows in. Water would go through the dike to the west, freshening the new lake, which is to be 654 square miles and 4 million acre-feet.
W. David Hemingway of Zion's First National Bank, one of the project's backers, told the Deseret News that at first Bangerter opposed the project. But after a second meeting, he agreed to support the studies if certain changes were made in HB208.
Bud Scruggs, Bangerter's chief of staff, said the governor hasn't had time to review the rewritten bill yet. But as described, it is in line with the governor's preferences.
"He supports the concept and for him, it's just a question of feasibility and timing," Scruggs said.
The changes in the new bill are:
(BU) The language is now similar to those establishing water conservancy districts.
(BU) No bonds may be issued for the project without the approval of the majority of voters in the district, which encompasses Salt Lake, Weber, Davis and Box Elder counties. Each county, plus the state government, Salt Lake City and two "at large" members, would be represented on the Great Salt Lake Development Authority. The bill would set up the authority.
(BU) Before the bond is approved, the lake's level, water quality and environmental impacts would be studied.
(BU) The boundary of the "tax increment district" to be established will be limited to the elevation of 4,217 feet above sea level, plus one mile.
This increment district would cover an area close to the lake where 75 percent of the increase in property taxes, attributable to the value of the new fresh-water lake, will go to pay off the bond. It is similar to an urban renovation project in that sense.
With the studies, authorization process and bond election, the project could begin in 18 months or in two years, he said.
Originally, the bill would have set aside funding for the studies.
"We took out the funding on the bill itself," Hemingway said.
Instead, $250,000 has been set aside by the state's Department of Economic Development as a loan for the project. It is to be paid back by the bonding revenue - if bonds are ever issued.
Also, if the bill passes, up to another $2 million could be raised for the studies, without asking for a bond election or additional legislative approval. This money would come from a mill levy imposed by the Great Salt Lake Development Authority.