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State plots future of Bear Lake

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GARDEN CITY, Rich County — A state agency is preparing a plan that will determine the future of virtually every activity on Bear Lake's shoreline — from commercial and recreational development to boating and all-terrain vehicle use.

The Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands' comprehensive management plan will designate what activities will be allowed and where they will be allowed on the Utah side of the scenic mountain lake that straddles the Idaho border. A consultant for Logan-based Bio-West Inc., an environmental research firm hired by the state division, said the plan would zone areas for specific uses in much the same way a city's general plan does.

"We've defined an area, the planning unit at Bear Lake, and we're going to essentially zone it for different kinds of uses," Christopher Sands told more than 30 people who gathered Wednesday to hear the agency's presentation and offer suggestions to the plan.

Because the division controls the land under the lake to the high-water mark, the plan will address water quality and availability, the lake's level, shoreline erosion, beach access, signs, mineral extraction, law enforcement, private development, recreational areas, facilities, and plants and animals, both native and invasive.

"It's a balancing act," Sands said. "This comprehensive management plan is intended to balance the needs of the uses, existing and proposed uses, at the same time maintaining the quality of the resources."

Although efforts to create a management plan began in 1996, a proposal to build a power-generation plant at Hook Canyon on the lake's eastern shore underlined the need for planning. In May, Logan-based Symbiotics LLC tried — but failed — to get permission to build the Hook Canyon project.

Had a plan already been in place, Sands said, it would have been easier to deal with the proposal.

"A use like that, these are the factors that should be considered when we decide if we're going to permit that use to occur or what kind of conditions we're going to apply to that use in order to protect the resources," he said.

The division encourages comments on the plan. For more information, go to www.bearlakeplanning.utah.gov or www.ffsl.utah.gov/sovlands/bearlake.php.

The public comment period ends June 27, and the plan is expected to be completed in January. A similar meeting was held in Salt Lake City on Thursday.

A co-director of Bear Lake Watch, a group of about 1,000 determined to protect the lake and the surrounding area, praised the division's efforts.

"I think it's going to make the beaches of Bear Lake a better place," Claudia Cottle said. "And it's going to be able to put some protections in place. Hopefully, now we don't have a problem like Hook Canyon again."

E-mail: mikewennergren@yahoo.com