Gov. Norm Bangerter spoke for it, the ski industry badly wants it and conservationists hate it.
And Ted Wilson, Bangerter's Democratic opponent, says it's a good idea but questioned whether the governor should inject himself into the controversy."It" is the so-called ski interconnect proposal to link Big and Little Cottonwood canyons with Park City. And while the interconnect issue is only a small part of Salt Lake County's canyon master planning process, it was the focus of many of the comments during a Wednesday night public hearing.
Most of those who commented on the master plan concepts praised county planners for their efforts, but there was sharp disagreement over what should be included in the plan.
"I urge you to approve a carefully planned, full interconnect and ski area expansion, which assure safe public use and continued protection of the environment," said Bangerter.
Such an interconnect system, balancing environmental concerns with recreation and tourism, would help create 1,400 new jobs and up to $6 million in new tax revenues without cost to taxpayers, the governor said.
Wilson, who did not appear but had aides circulate a written statement at the hearing, criticized Bangerter for speaking out on the issue, and then offered his own opinion.
"For Governor Bangerter to step out in front of public comment as he did on the interconnect issue undermines the entire process, and takes canyon management out of perspective," Wilson's statement read.
Members of the Salt Lake County Planning Commission apparently agree with Wilson. Commission members say privately they think Bangerter's stand on interconnect will make the difficult task of developing a canyon master plan even harder, and they are considering a letter to the governor to express those concerns.
Wilson's statement said the former Salt Lake mayor likes "the idea of a carefully placed inter-resort transportation system," but stopped short of endorsing the concept because of remaining unanswered questions.
As expected, ski industry representatives spoke for the interconnect, while a coalition of conservationists opposed it. And as promised, busloads of Park City residents arrived at the hearing on coaches chartered by the Park City Chamber of Commerce.
Jess Reed, a past president of the Park City Convention and Visitors Bureau said environmentalists' "unfounded fear of change is overriding the attributes of a mountain transportation system."
Jim Peterson of the Park City Merchants Association spoke of a Utah "mega-resort that can rival those in Europe" if an interconnect is developed.
But interconnect opponent Milton Hollander, a member of the Citizens Committee to Save our Canyons, echoed an idea county planners have expressed _ emotional debate over a single issue will cause the public to ignore hundreds of other questions that must be addressed by any canyon master plan.
"We have to look at the overall impact of the interconnect and not one issue like economic development," Hollander said. "If we're going to look at a single issue, then water quality should be that issue."
Some form of the interconnect proposal, a system of ski trails, lifts and possibly a paved road over Guardsman Pass, is included in three of the four master plan scenarios developed for public consideration.
Following a second hearing on those scenarios at 7 p.m. Monday in the county government center, 2001 S. State, planners will begin work on a preliminary master plan proposal that is expected to go to the Planning Commission early next year. After another round of public hearings, a final master plan proposal will be presented to the county commission for consideration.
The county's master planning efforts are focused mainly the Cottonwood Canyons, but also would affect City Creek, Red Butte, Emigration, Parley's and Mill Creek canyons.