U.S. District Court Judge Dale A. Kimball has tentatively selected the man who will decide the Utah Lake boundary lines.

Kimball signed an order of intent Friday to appoint Owen Olpin of Teasdale, Wayne County.

Olpin now has 10 days to disclose any reasons he might have that could prevent him from handling the case in a prudent and legal manner.

If nothing is disclosed that prevents his appointment, he could be in place as early as mid-February.

Olpin was appointed "Special Master" in 1987 by the U.S. Supreme Court to help resolve a case involving a dispute between Nebraska and Wyoming over rights to flows of the North Platte River system. That case was resolved in 2002 when the court approved a master-recommended global settlement.

Olpin is a semi-retired attorney from a private practice in Los Angeles that handled cases involving public lands, natural resources, environmental and water law.

He represented Union Pacific in a series of multi-year negotiations to resolve long-term disputes over boundaries between Union Pacific-owned uplands and sovereign tide and submerged lands in Los Angeles and Long Beach harbors.

In addition he negotiated transactions for the California resolving ownership and boundary disputes at Playa Vista wetlands in Los Angeles County and Bolsa Chica wetlands in Orange County.

Olpin was selected from a list of four nominees that also included H. Reese Hansen, dean of the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University, BYU law professor Michael Goldsmith and Daniel Berman, a Salt Lake attorney with the firm of Berman, Gaufin, Tomsic and Savage.

Olpin and Goldsmith were nominated by the state, Hansen and Berman by attorneys representing the landowners who are suing the state to resolve the lake boundaries.

Olpin will be charged with hearing all of the pertinent evidence involved in an eight-year legal battle between the Utah Division of Natural Resources and the landowners whose properties abut the Utah County lake.

He will then determine where the legal boundary or high water mark lies and who has the right to the property that is usually above water.

The high water line has been the focus of debate because there was no official recording of the lake's elevation at the time of statehood, and the water level has fluctuated dramatically over the years.

Landowners have laid claim to shoreline land and property that includes much of the Provo Bay area that is currently underwater. They say they have the right to develop those lands and keep people off them if they so desire.

The state's attorneys have said the landowners are trying to claim land that has traditionally been available to the public.

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Several environmental groups have joined hands with the state saying they want to protect up to 20,000 acres that could be lost.

Deputy Attorney General J. Mark Ward said all four candidates appeared well qualified for the position and he is simply pleased that the process is moving forward.

The suit originally included 237 property owners. Settlements negotiated by the state has reduced that number to just over 50 that will be involved in the review process.


E-mail: haddoc@desnews.com

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