SALT LAKE CITY — Transit expansion, land exchanges in canyon recreation areas and long-range conservation efforts are part of a 16-page Mountain Accord Draft Plan released Friday, the product of a more than two-year effort to guide the future of the Central Wasatch Front.
The document represents the consensus positions of a team of community leaders and policymakers working to balance protection of water and land resources with Utah's growth and economic expansion. It brought transportation, business, government, recreation and environmental interests to the table to take part in the process and try to build consensus.
Now the real work begins.
“What we really want is for the public to be aware and engaged as we move forward,” Mountain Accord project manager Laynee Jones said.
“We have got to get people moving in the canyons in an environmentally sensitive way,” Jones said. “We don’t know what the ultimate solution will be. These are complex transportation issues to solve.”
The report is a point-by-point framework for the future of the central Wasatch Mountains, and serves as a specific starting point for planning the future of canyon areas that are the playground and water resource for 1 million residents and visitors.
Among the many proposed ideas written into the report are creation of a network of trails, expansion of transit options that could include trains to mountain resorts, and a tunnel connecting two canyons.
Supporters recommend considering alternatives that dissuade single-occupancy vehicle access to the canyons. Specific options could include recreation fees, congestion pricing, ski resort parking fees, U.S. Forest Service parking fees, tolling, single-occupancy vehicle restrictions, and elimination of roadside parking in the canyons, Jones said.
She said the consortium of 20 public and private entities that helped compose the draft Accord recognize that many of the actions recommended in the document are subject to extensive analysis and public review pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act and other state, local, or private decision-making processes.
The authority for actions that require the policy act lies with applicable federal agencies.
Save Our Canyons executive director Carl Fisher said his organization has some apprehension regarding the idea of interconnection between the canyon resorts, but this draft proposal does address a number of key conservation issues that are important to preserving the local environment.
“We have a lot of concerns about these proposed transit connections, but we do like the process that we are engaging in (with) the Mountain Accord,” he said.
The group is a staunch advocate for preserving the natural wilderness of the mountains and canyon areas. “We have to figure out how to control access to the (canyons). Our goal has always been and always will be maintaining the integrity of the (canyon).”
In addition to transportation plans, the draft includes several land exchange proposals involving each of the Cottonwood canyons' ski resorts. That's prompted a contingent of Utah County residents to voice strong opposition to a particular proposal that would swap 416 acres of U.S. Forest Service land for more than 1,000 acres in Salt Lake County. The exchange would allow Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort to have a contiguous connector to land it already owns in the American Fork Canyon area.
Critics contend that Snowbird has plans for expansion that threatens their enjoyment of a recreation area they have enjoyed for generations.
Last week, Utah County commissoners passed a resolution asking that “all provisions dealing with land located within Utah County, and that the Draft Accord be specifically amended to delete all provisions related to the proposed change of ownership of land located in American Fork Canyon from public ownership to ownership by Snowbird Ski Resort, including any property exchanges involving land located in Utah County. This will allow Utah County, and all other stakeholders to proceed with the planning process for American Fork Canyon and other area resources.”
In response, Jones said, “We have respected Utah County’s wishes and have updated the Accord to indicate that the American Fork canyon proposal is out of our hands. We support Utah County and their intent to continue the public discussion and negotiations. We do not intend to take further action on American Fork Canyon issues.”
The issue is now in the hands of Utah County civic leaders, Snowbird and the U.S. Forest Service.
“I’m optimistic that we’re heading in the right direction,” said Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee. “Utah County is going to be a participant in this process. Now the stakeholders and elected officials will be able to have their voices heard.”
On Monday, the Mountain Accord executive board will meet, with supporters of the draft expressing their approval of the plan with their signatures. The document is nonbinding as the Mountain Accord has no enforcement authority, so items in the draft are subject to changes based on public feedback and other pertinent information, Jones explained.
Jones said the formal National Environmental Policy Act decision-making process could begin this fall and would take approximately two years before any further determinations are made.
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