SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah environmental group is taking a hard-line stance against a proposal to build a gondola connecting a ski resort in Summit County to a resort in Salt Lake County.
Led by leaders of Save Our Canyons, protesters carrying colorful signs demonstrated Tuesday outside the headquarters of the Salt Lake Chamber in opposition to a plan to construct SkiLInk — a proposed Euro-styled gondola that would transport skiers and snowboarders between Canyons Resort in Park City and Solitude Mountain Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
During a news conference at the Chamber offices, a group of 20 business and civic leaders announced the formation of the Lift Utah Coalition chaired by former U.S. Sen. Jake Garn, Sandy Mayor Tom Dolan and Salt Lake Chamber President Lane Beattie. The coalition considers SkiLink an important “first step” to demonstrate that connecting resorts in an economically and environmentally responsible manner is a viable option.
Critics argue that the plan would harm pristine forest land and object to the tactics used by the coalition to get the project developed.
"They haven't involved any of the public in any step along the way," said Save Our Canyons Executive Director Carl Fisher. "They are selling off our public lands … for private development."
Supporters believe the project could infuse more than $50 million into the Utah economy and add 500 new jobs, a claim Fisher disputed. He also said that building the project would do little to enhance the preservation of the natural landscape.
"We have enough development in these mountains," Fisher said.
Asked about the environmental concerns raised by conservationists, Beattie said an integral part of making SkiLink a reality would be a rigorous local process that covers land-use, water quality, wildlife and other related environmental issues.
"Before any decision is made, we will know what the answers are (concerning environmental impacts)," he said.
The challenge is to connect the resorts in a manner that advances Utah’s ski industry and protects the natural amenities, including wildlife and the watershed that are so important to our long-term prosperity and quality of life, he added.
Extensive local review by Summit and Salt Lake County, including public hearings, must occur, Beattie said.
"As a community, we will get one chance to do this right," he said. "We must consider a variety of sound ideas of how to do this correctly."
Despite the wide difference of opinion between the two sides, coalition member Mike Goar said he was still hopeful that a compromise could be reached that would be mutually satisfactory to all concerned and get the project built.
"Some of the common ground may be the specific placement of the lift … in terms of location (that would) have less visual impact — all of which we're willing to discuss," Goar said.