Conservation • Feds want to reroute river to create a habitat for an endangered fish.
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Provo • A group of property owners wants the federal government to consider alternatives to routing the Provo River across their land to save the endangered June sucker.
The group has asked the Utah County Commission to consider putting their property, about 490 acres in west Provo, in an agricultural protection zone to deflect plans for the Provo River delta.
"This protection allows for a forum for those options [to the delta plan] to be discussed," said Scott Anderson, one of the property owners, at a Tuesday public hearing before the Utah County Commission.
But commissioners tabled the proposal for at least three weeks, to give the county time to sort out claims that the property in question was not properly deeded over by the federal government after statehood.
The federal Utah Reclamation Mitigation and Conservation Commission is proposing to reroute the Provo River from its existing channel northward and create a delta emptying into Utah Lake.
The delta, a fan of sediment with meandering channels and pools, would offer warm, shallow water and plants that would serve as a nursery for June sucker larvae. Utah Lake is its only native habitat.
But those who spoke at the meeting said the delta would destroy agricultural land and bring more mosquitoes to the area.
Allen Christensen, an American Fork farmer, said the delta would "take lands that pay taxes out of production, and turn it into a swamp that consumes taxes."
Eric Despain, another property owner, said his family has been willing to help the city and county with open-space issues, pointing to their decision to sell development rights on 300 acres of property to the state to preserve open space.
"But we're a cattle ranch, and we want to leave it that way," Despain said.
The agricultural protection zone may not completely stop the delta being developed, but would force additional public hearings and a vote of the County Commission to lift it.
But the farmers were not the only ones upset.
Ben Allen, owner of the CLAS Ropes Course along the Provo River, said the plans he's seen would either eliminate all river water past his business, or reduce it to a trickle and some ponds. Allen urged the commission to join him and others in fighting the project, claiming that U.S. Sen. Mike Lee, U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Provo Mayor John Curtis were already in opposition.
Spokeswoman Emily Bennion said Lee is still studying in the issue, and has not taken a formal position. Attempts to contact Chaffetz, R-Utah, were not successful.
Curtis said Allen was "taking some liberties" with his comments.
The city has not taken a formal position, but Curtis said he would support the project if it maintained some water flow in the existing river channel; if any condemnation of land be done in a "friendly" way; and if the land is left in a better condition than it was before.
County Commission Chairman Larry Ellertson said the county also has not taken a formal position on the delta project.
"We want to do the right thing," Ellertson said, adding that the county's goal is to find a solution that satisfies both sides.