My view: SkiLink compatible with clean water

By Jake Garn

Published: Friday, Feb. 10 2012 10:56 p.m. MST

SkiLink would connect Canyons ski resort to Solitude, shown above.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

Our pioneer ancestors understood that water was a precious resource in a desert state. Like the pioneers, I too know the importance of water quality to our community. The privilege of turning on our faucets to have fresh and clean water in our homes and businesses is one of Americas greatest achievements.

Salt Lake City has always been way ahead of federal efforts. I was a custodian of our citys water, serving as Salt Lake Citys Water Commissioner in 1967. By 1974, we had established a culture and expectation rooted in our state constitution and supported by local ordinances. In 1974, as mayor of Salt Lake City, I embraced this culture and supported the Safe Drinking Water Act, a federal act that focused on ground water contamination. As a U.S. Senator in 1977, I supported the Clean Water Act, sweeping federal protection designed to bring our nation up to clean water levels.

Almost 40 years later, water quality is once again in discussion as we consider SkiLink, a proposed gondola connecting Canyons and Solitude ski resorts. I support SkiLink and disagree with the speculation that a gondola will harm our water quality.

My disagreement is based on evidence. SkiLink would only require a narrow area within a small 30-acre footprint. An initial environmental study conducted for SkiLink by Cirrus Ecological Solutions, L.C., a highly-regarded environmental firm in Logan, Utah, reported there would be no significant impacts to the watershed or water quality from a gondola. I unreservedly agree we must be careful to balance our future water quality needs, but the balance must be without prohibiting activities which are a vital source of our economic well-being in Utah — like skiing and snowboarding.

Skiing is a pillar of Utahs $6.53 billion tourism industry. It pays a good share of our tax revenues and provides 123,000 jobs. This is an economic essential in these tough times. Ski lifts in Big Cottonwood Canyon have carefully maintained the balance between economic and environmental concerns — they have not polluted water. Some evidence:

The environmental studys central statement regarding potential water quality harm is, The proposed ski link does not appear to have the potential for this type of impact based on water quality records.

The report also says, Ski area development has taken place in Big Cottonwood Canyon since 1936 when Brighton was established, and a notable increase occurred in 1977 when Solitude was rebuilt and reopened. Through this period, monitoring of Big Cottonwood Creek at the Forest Service boundary indicates that water quality has remained stable, in support of applicable standards, since the mid-1970s and the inception of the Clean Water Act.

This statement that the rigorous standards of the Clean Water Act have been met is a considerable compliment to the balance achieved by Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County through their regulatory procedures. In short, there is room in our canyons for a healthy ski industry and for SkiLink.

The idea of connecting the Wasatch resorts with aerial transportation has been studied repeatedly for 30 years, delivering positive findings. The 1990 Moutainland Association of Governments study concludes, those wishing to protect the watershed and the environment should want to explore connecting the resorts in order to reduce automobile pollution. Its time to act.

As a skier, when I first heard about the SkiLink, a simple gondola where I could ski both Canyons and Solitude in one day, I thought there just couldnt be anything more exciting. This proposal will undoubtedly benefit skiers, snowboarders and our state as a whole in countless ways. It deserves a chance to move forward.

E.J. Jake Garn is a retired U.S. senator from Utah. He served in the Senate from 1974 to 1993.

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