On Earth Day, the governor handed Bear Lake activists the gift they were asking for a decision that could effectively stamp out a controversial proposal for a hydroelectric project on the lake's east shore.
Citing "grave concerns" for the region, Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. directed the parks division on Tuesday to halt negotiations concerning an easement in Hook Canyon that would allow needed access for the proposed project.
"Bear Lake is one of the recreational gems of the state," Huntsman said in a prepared statement. "The actions the state is taking today (Tuesday) will ensure that the Bear Lake is preserved at its present state for generations to come."
Symbiotics LLC, of Logan, hoped the project would produce "scarce, clean, peak-hour electricity" by building a dam and hydroelectric plant on the east shore of Bear Lake.
The project called for storing water in a 1,210-acre-feet reservoir behind a 160-foot dam at night, and then pumping the water back into the lake during the day to generate electricity.
But the proposal was met by opposition from critics who worried the project would alter the lake's ecosystem, hurting a species of fish only found there, and even diminishing the lake's blue color by disturbing sediments at the bottom.
Merlin Olsen, a Logan native who graduated from Utah State University before going on to a famed NFL and television career, was one of the project's most outspoken critics.
"I'm delighted to hear the governor has stepped forward," said Olsen, whose wife's grandfather built one of the first cabins along the lake. "This is exciting news for everyone who uses and loves Bear Lake, and especially for those generations that will have a chance to enjoy it as a pristine and beautiful place."
Symbiotics had also been accused of wanting to do the project as a money-making scheme, buying energy at a low price during the night to operate its facility and selling electricity at a higher cost to consumers during the day. Attempts to reach Symbiotics officials for comment were unsuccessful Tuesday evening.
"You couldn't get a better present on Earth Day than a decision like this," said Jeff Salt, executive director of the group Great Salt Lake Keeper. "This is another message on Earth Day that people value the environment and our natural resources."Symbiotics application for the project is still under consideration by the Federal Regulatory Commission, but Salt said he believes the governor's decision will be the piece that topples the project.