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Could interconnect, other projects lead to one mega ski resort along Wasatch?

Published: Sunday, Oct. 23 2011 12:11 a.m. MDT

"Are we really willing to compromise our watershed for wow? I have a difficult time, but I am the water guy."

Salt Lake City has been in talks with the county and with the U.S. Forest Service to express its concerns, keenly aware that its input represents only one voice in multi-jurisdictional issue.

"We don't hold all the cards," said Laura Briefer, the city's special project manager. "Any one of these sets precedence for others waiting in the queue."

Save Our Canyons' Carl Fischer said the number of ski resort project proposals is mind boggling.

"It's absolutely unprecedented," he said. "I've never seen anything like it."

Fischer, like Niermeyer, said he believes the creep in the proposals is part of a grander vision to expand the Wasatch Canyons skiing experience.

"I find everything that is out on the table very troubling because it is going to lead to significant change to the way everyone is going to use these canyons," Fischer said. "From what I can tell it is all going to be one enormous ski resort."

Fischer and Salt Lake City, too, worries that possible revisions to a Salt Lake County ordinance related to ski resorts could open the door to developments that have been discussed. The city has fired off a three-page letter to the county's planning director, outlining concerns about proposals to fine-tune that ordinance.

Salt Lake County Public Works Director Patrick Leary said the regulations were written 14 years ago and are in need of revision.

"The issues have changed substantially over the years," Leary said. "We are looking at taking a holistic approach to this. ... We want to have a very rich discussion about it."

Ski Utah President and Chief Executive Officer Nathan Rafferty said any of the proposals out there are designed to make sure the ski resorts can meet the needs of the future.

"They are less about making the ski resorts bigger and more about getting people from one resort to another," Rafferty said, pointing to congestion and other traffic problems that already pose headaches for skiers and snowboarders.

"As we have all seen, the experience of getting to a ski area has rapidly deteriorated."

Such options that help "connect" resorts to each other could possibly solve some of those problems, Rafferty said.

"I think the time is here for some thoughtful discussions on the impacts to the Wasatch," Rafferty said. "Nobody wins if we shut things down up there or we degrade the water quality."

Gov. Gary Herbert, too, said some sort of ski resort connectivity might actually have environmental benefits — such as improvements to air quality — but such development would have to have proceed with caution and appropriate mitigation.

"Whatever we do has to be in harmony with the stewardship responsibilities we have in protecting our watersheds, our flora and our fauna," he said. "We might be able to tip-toe through the watershed with an aerial tram."

Niermeyer remains unconvinced that a lift or tram that is capable of putting 1,000 skiers on the slopes in an hour is going to do anything to alleviate congestion, or be protective.

"Those skiers need restrooms, base facilities and it all starts to expand."

E-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com, Twitter: amyjoi16

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