Basis for Our Thinking
For all life to be healthy and sustainable it must have a healthy, sustainable environment. The Utah Valley Earth Forum is committed to working for a better, healthier, sustainable Utah Valley and world. Our motivation is helping the long-term common good and the good of the environment rather than promoting the short-term personal advantage of individuals, corporations or governments.
Multiple Harms to the Ecosystem
With this in mind, we believe that constructing a bridge across Utah Lake (toll or otherwise) would harm the health and sustainability of the Utah Lake ecosystem, including its watershed, airshed, viewshed and soundshed. Constructing a bridge across the lake would have several detrimental consequences: the loss of significant open spaces and natural area on the west side and a substantial increase in homes, pavement, cars, vehicular traffic and corresponding increases in congestion and harmful air pollution. Utah Valley is already among the worst communities in the nation in spikes of harmful air pollution—especially during inversions and in the winter. The valley is also in “non-attainment” of federal PM 2.5 air quality standards and runs the risk of losing all federal funding if it does not reduce its PM 2.5 pollutant levels. Adding many more thousands of vehicles to our overcrowded roads will increase—not decrease—harmful air pollution and congestion. Would allowing a few private developers and investors to construct a toll bridge across Utah Lake that leads to an increase in automobile caused air pollution be worth the risk of losing all future federal funding for projects in Utah Valley (including I-15 extensions and improvements)? We think most people in Utah Valley would agree with us that the answer is a resounding “NO!” Furthermore, adding many thousands of people on the west side of the lake will undoubtedly place unnecessary stresses on already limited supplies of fresh water available to valley residents and businesses and will add significantly to harmful wastes that are emptied into the lake.
Damage to the Lake
Constructing a bridge across Utah Lake will most likely damage the lake’s fragile ecosystem. The lake is home to the June Sucker, a federally protected endangered species that lives only in Utah Lake. Aside from stirring up excessive levels of phosphorus and other harmful chemical pollutants that have been dumped and flow into the lake, vehicular wastes from traffic on the proposed bridge will be washed into the lake during periods of rain and snow. Aquatic life is sure to suffer from the construction and operation of a bridge across the lake. A heavily used bridge across the lake will reduce the aesthetics of the lake and negatively impact waterfowl use and the nature-related experiences of hunters, anglers, sailors and visitors.
A bridge across Utah Lake will harm the aesthetics of the lake. No longer would there be an uninterrupted large natural lake in this beautiful valley. If constructed, a bridge would bisect the now open water with a four lane (?) roadway of cars and trucks rumbling across it at 70 mile per hour, generating that freeway-like din of exhaust spewing engines. The prospect of a possible future market in eco-tourism to the lake will be greatly diminished by the presence of trans-lake bridge and the traffic it may facilitate.
Currently there is no need for a bridge across Utah Lake. There is no large population center living on the west side of the lake that does not have access to the east side or to Salt Lake County. At the northern end of the lake the citizens of Saratoga Springs and Eagle Mountain are using existing arteries that are planned for improvement and expansion in the near future. Where are the impartial, in-depth, comprehensive, rigorous projected-traffic studies that show the predicted use of the proposed bridge? Perhaps such studies have not been done or they show predictions that the bridge developers do not want the public to see. Would you invest $600M to $1Billion to finance a toll bridge in Utah Valley that may not be used enough to pay off the investment?
Better Alternatives: Smart Growth
There are better alternatives to a bridge across the lake and the resulting urban sprawl that is likely to take place. The Utah Valley Sierra Forum does not support environmentally unfriendly growth of sprawling, low density, automobile-centered developments that can make a relatively few people wealthy at the expense of the environment and future generations. We do, however, approve of sensible, sustainable, environmentally-friendly growth that permanently protects and preserves nearby open spaces and natural areas, is powered by clean, safe, renewable, domestic energy and relies on highly efficient forms of transit and energy-conserving higher-density housing, plus bicycling and walking to nearby jobs, shopping, services and schools. The UVEF believes that future growth in Utah Valley should be limited to smart, sustainable and environmentally friendly growth. Unrestricted growth is not sustainable, generates problems and harms present and future generations.
Flawed, Troubling Process
Two of the most troubling aspects of this entire bridge proposal situation are that the process allows the parties pushing for the bridge to not fully disclose their identities and worse—that Utah law could permit the construction of a bridge across the Lake without requiring a rigorous, comprehensive, completely independent environmental study (equivalent to a full NEPA required EIS--environmental impact statement) to determine just what impact such a project would likely have on the Lake and its ecosystem and its watershed. If this were to happen--State bridge approval without the kind of fully independent study just mentioned--we believe this our be a violation of the public trust on the part of the State of Utah and would lead to the prospect of serious environmental harm to present and future generations.
Shirking Responsibility, Exploiting the Common Good for Personal Gain
Why should the state of Utah permit the building of a for-profit bridge across a great natural feature that has been entrusted to the state for protection? Doing so would seem to exemplify the exploitation of a public treasure for personal gain? Why don’t we allow private companies to build toll bridges across Zion Canyon, or the Grand Canyon, or private toll roads across Yellowstone or into the heart of Bryce Canyon or Yosemite? Because these places are important, valued natural features which deserve to be protected from commercial development and personal exploitation. Preserving the natural beauty of the region and the health of its ecosystem are more important than allowing a small group of individuals or corporations to make a lot of money. Preserving and protecting our natural heritage and the well being of the ecosystem on which the quality of all our lives depend (both present and future generations) is more important than the short term personal advantage of the few. That’s why we have national and state parks. That’s why we should not allow a private toll bridge to be built across Utah Lake.
What if the private toll bridge fails as a commercial venture?
Suppose the undisclosed private financiers of the toll bridge change their minds and back out of the deal, or they decide that the toll bridge becomes too expensive to build or too costly to operate, either before or after the bridge is completed? Who will pay for the removal of the bridge? A bankrupt group of investors may not have the resources to pay for the cleanup? We could have a quasi “superfund” site blighting the lake for a long time to come. Will the taxpayers be asked to “come the rescue” and buy out a financially defunct toll bridge of be forces to live with a ugly scar across an otherwise unobstructed natural fresh-water lake?
Slippery Slope: If one bridge, why not many bridges?
If the state of Utah permits a private toll bridge to be built across Utah Lake (especially with no requirement to do a thorough, independent scientific study of the possible and likely consequences to the ecosystem of the lake) what will deter other interests from building their own private toll roads across the lake or prevent the state from building a north-south toll way through the lake?
What if the bridge and its consequences harm the environment?
There have been no thorough, legitimate scientific studies of the effects bridge construction and its operation will have on the lake and its ecosystem. Suppose building and operating a toll bridge across the lake produces harmful effects on the lake and its ecosystem, such as increased pollution of the lake, harm to the aquatic life in the lake, harm to the bird populations that use the lake, harm to the air quality of the valley owing to the increased urban sprawl that is planned to follow (not precede) the deployment of the bridge? Who will pay to correct the problems, especially if that entails removing the bridge? Will the bridge proponents pay? What assurances do we have that that will happen? Will Utah Valley taxpayers be asked to foot the cleanup bill?
Summary: A Very Bad Idea
A private toll bridge across Utah Lake is unnecessary and would harm the ecology of both the lake and the valley for current and future generations and generate perhaps irreparable damage to the environment. In essence the proposed private toll bridge is a scheme to exploit the long term common good for the short-term personal advantage of the few. The health of a great natural ecosystem is being put at risk for the expectation of large profits from the sale of undeveloped land on the west side. A bridge across the lake would also permanently scar the pleasing appearance of this beautiful natural feature. To permit the construction of a private, for-profit, toll bridge across a public lake, especially without an independent, high-integrity, rigorous, complete, scientific study of the possible and likely environmental consequences, would be a violation of the public trust to protect the health of Utah Lake and the people, animal and plant life which rely on the health of both its water and air sheds for their well being. In short, it is a harmful, bad idea and should be dropped from consideration.