Protect Utah’s Central Wasatch Range
The Wasatch is a unique and magnificent resource that is under pressure from development schemes such as SkiLink. SkiLink is poised to set off a grand interconnect scheme, that would change the character of the Wasatch forever. The SkiLink proposal is a gondola which would connect the Canyons to Solitude in an effort to shuttle skiers between the two resorts. SkiLink has the support of the Utah Congressional delegation (except for Rep. Jim Matheson whose district the proposal resides) which is sponsoring - The Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act, a bill that would mandate the sale of 30 acres of public lands to the Canyons. It is clear this proposal seeks to serve the interests of a development corporation, and it does not have the support of local Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, and the Forest Service. SkiLink also undermines the Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act, and all the local planning processes currently underway. This is a short-sighted proposal that fails to seek public input and take into consideration the public’s values that have been solicited time and time again in countless studies and polls.
With proposals such as this, it is evident the Wasatch is being targeted for development. The protection and preservation of public lands has been a priority for local elected officials who represent the area, however Congressmen from other areas of the state are attempting to take matters into their own hands, away from the public and local government - in pursuit of a lofty development scheme putting the headwaters of our watershed at risk. SkiLink would be precedent setting and it is only the first step to interconnecting all central Wasatch ski resorts.
Last year a piece of legislation drafted by a Canadian global real estate development company, Talisker, was introduced into the House of Representatives by Congressman Rob Bishop to sell off inventoried roadless public lands in his colleague Representative Jim Matheson’s congressional district. Subsequently at a hearing before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker whose city is responsible for managing the watershed in which the project is slated, testified in opposition because of the environmental harm and increased development that would take place inside the area which provides 60% of the drinking water for a growing valley of 1 Million residents and visitors of the Salt Lake Area.
During that same December hearing, the US Forest Service also testified in opposition to the land sale that would spawn ski area expansion and development inside one of their inventoried roadless units. The agency also expressed concern because this was a legislative maneuver to get around provisions of the 2003 US Forest Service Plan which does not allow for any ski area expansion projects that impact the “highly valued adjacent public lands” on which numerous dispersed recreational activities take place. The agency also suggested in tandem with local governments that this is not a transportation project and is in fact ski area expansion. It would also fragment the existing public lands creating an island of roadless land, making management of this heavily used forest even more challenging. US Forest Service also said NEPA analysis would not be conducted as they don’t do analysis on lands which Congress tells them to dispose of.
We, the undersigned, are asking you today to oppose this piece of legislation for the following reasons:
• It usurps the 2003 Wasatch-Cache National Forest Plan by facilitating the controversial expansion of a ski resort inside of a municipal watershed
• Mandates the Forest Service to sell lands contained in Rep. Jim Matheson’s Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act which has been in the making for the past five year, building consensus amongst a diverse group of stakeholders
• US Forest Service and local Watershed managers are concerned about the future of our municipal water supply, because of the authorization of additional development inside of the watershed
• Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, US Forest Service, regional transportation planners, the State of Utah and many other stakeholders are currently working to study Mountain Transportation in the Wasatch Range. It is a public process attempting to solve local and regional mountain transportation initiatives and should be supported by Congress, not hindered by this legislation
• It sets an unfavorable precedent to sell off actively used and appreciated public lands for the benefit of a private business entity. Their are currently ten other ski resort projects proposed inside our municipal watershed and this legislation allows them a way around the local ordinances and federal management strategies protecting our water supply
• Circumvents the public process and, in this instance, a public that has already expressed sentiments against the wanton expansion of ski areas in the Wasatch.
• Become the impetus for a range war of construction of additional lifts which span the Wasatch Crest and put at risk the integrity of our watershed and diminish the backcountry skier/hiker/biker /tourist experience.
• Truly jeopardize the likelihood of there ever being one well thought out, comprehensive, and inclusive solution to the transportation demands of our canyons. (*Cited in Utah Ski & Snowboard Industry letter written to Governor Herbert)
• It steamrolls the work of the Congressman who was elected to represent this district and the interests of local leaders and understands the complexities of management inside this sensitive area
• A recent local study funded by the State of Utah, the US Forest Service, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City and a number of other stakeholders found 94% of people in the Salt Lake Valley wanted to see no additional ski area expansion inside our watershed, exactly what HR 3452 is trying to circumvent
• We need well thought out, inclusive planning to look to the future of our treasured public lands and municipal watershed.
One of the driving forces for The Wasatch Range Recreation Enhancement Act is because proponents of the legislation claim it will reduce traffic inside our municipal watershed. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Research has found that the project is more likely to increase traffic in our municipal watershed because it offers a potentially faster connection from Salt Lake County (Solitude Resort) to Summit County (Canyons Resort). It takes only one lift and fifteen minutes to get from Salt Lake County to Summit County, but five lifts and nearly two hours to get from Summit County to Salt Lake County. US Forest Service and Salt Lake County land managers have not allowed for the creation of additional parking in the Cottonwood Canyons because of the impact of automobile traffic and increased amount of impermeable surfaces which degrade our water supply and increase the treatment costs passed onto tax payers. We need to decrease the amount of traffic inside the Cottonwood Canyons, and this legislation is poised to take traffic which currently goes up US Interstate 80 and putting it inside our protected watershed on dangerous avalanche prone, icy highways.
A vote against this legislation, is a vote for local public processes poised to assist transportation to and around this mountainous region for residents, watershed managers, and tourists for the benefit of the local environment and economy. It is a vote for well rounded, science based forest planning.It is also a vote for the protection of a municipal watershed serving a valley of over 1 Million residents and over 5 million visitors.
While the ski industry is a prominent user of our public lands in the central Wasatch, they should not trump the many other uses that take place in these mountains. Experiences enjoyed by people hiking, climbing, bird watching, hunting, fishing, camping, picnicking, wildlife viewing, mountain biking, snowshoeing are equally important to visitors of these public lands and will be directly impacted by the proposed legislation.
The reduction of vehicle miles travelled is a noble cause. However, SkiLink caters to a small minority, yet stands to displace a majority. We need year-round, comprehensive transportation solutions that reduce vehicle miles travelled in the canyons and serves the multiple uses that access these amazing canyons 365 days per year. Solutions need to help the Ski industry as much as they help other recreationists, but the ultimate goal must be protection of the water resources while maintaining the scenic beauty of the canyons which draws over 5 million visits annually.
As an elected official, representing the diverse interests of the citizens of Utah, we urge you to participate in civic dialogues, aimed at solving the many issues confronting the sustainment of this resource that is vital to our quality of life, our economy, and most of all that provides high quality water needed both for industry and life in this arid valley. Please represent me and work towards supportable solutions and withdraw and oppose these divisive pieces of legislation.