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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah state senator believes expanding the Bear Lake Marina to increase its capacity will decrease dangerous congestion on U.S. 89 and assist in search and rescue operations.
Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, cited the June 2015 capsizing of a boat during a torrential storm that took the lives of three members of one family and a family friend.
The victims were in the water for several hours before they were found dead of hypothermia on the Idaho side of the lake.
Hillyard, who addressed members of the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environmental Quality Appropriations Subcommittee on Monday, said the $3 million appropriation would jump-start the process for a possible expansion to improve the overall visitor experience of the lake, which he described as a "jewel" for recreation.
Crowded conditions are leading to vehicles and boats on the highway and launching sailboats is limited to the depth of the water, he said.
Visitation at the lake is skyrocketing in the summer months.
In July 2017, Bear Lake State Park in Utah had 116,120 visitors. Last year during the same month, the park hosted 121,719 people.
Kirk Rich, manager of the Bear Lake State Park in Idaho, said on Saturdays in the summer, he turns away 400 cars by 10 a.m.
"For water-based recreation, we had a 20 percent increase over last year," he said. "We can feel the effects of the increase around 2 or 3 percent, so if you can imagine at 15 to 20 percent, it has really taken a toll on us."
To add to the congestion, Rich said a private hot springs and campground facility on the northern end of the lake was sold to a developer who plans to put in condominiums.
"Anything Utah does to increase capacity will help us both," Rich said.
Hillyard said the $3 million funding request is to begin the environmental study process for the marina expansion and adding more boat slips for people on a waiting list.
The appropriations subcommittee will sort through the list of funding requests and rank them by priority.