Despite the wholehearted endorsement of Gov. Norm Bangerter and Utah ski officials, not everyone is wild about the proposal to build a system of ski lifts connecting major resorts in the mountains east of Salt Lake City by 1990.
Both proponents and opponents had their say on the ski connect during several hours of public comment Monday night concerning Salt Lake County's yearlong effort to prepare the Wasatch Canyons Master Plan."While those in the tourism-ski industry sector would argue that the interconnect would be a panacea for Utah's ailing economy, economic development dollars could very well be spent more beneficially for some other form of economic activity," said David M. Jones, Democratic candidate for the State House of Representatives, District 27.
But proponents of the interconnect feel the new lifts would help the state compete with neighboring Colorado for skiing tourists. The interconnect would link Alta, Brighton, Park City, Snowbird and Solitude ski resorts and could be built in one summer. Skiers would be able to purchase a pass at one location and ski through several resorts.
In a public hearing held last Wednesday, Gov. Norm Bangerter heartily endorsed the system, stating economic benefits and employment opportunities for the state.
Lt. Gov. Val Oveson reiterated that support Monday, stating he fully supports Bangerter's position.
"It is critical to the future of our state that we do not allow ourselves to get further behind in the winter skiing tourism development at this time . . . For those of us who truly believe that tourism is the clean, economic, beautiful kind of industry for our state, it is critical that we support the development that the interconnect would provide," Oveson said.
But not everyone agreed with Bangerter. In fact, of the 80 citizens testifying, the overwhelming majority were opposed to the plan.
Rick Steiner said if the issue was simply economic growth, there are many alternatives from which to choose other than interfering with the natural beauty of the canyons.
"Why doesn't Norm (Bangerter), Val (Oveson) and Richard Snelgrove, if he gets elected, fight for increased development of the University of Utah? If the growth of Utah skiing were the real issue, then one might ask, `Why not devise ways to sell Utah skiing as a whole instead of a select group of resorts?' If I were on the board of directors of one of the other 50 percent of the ski areas in Utah, I'd be going to the Utah Ski Association and asking for my dues back," Steiner said.
Jones said he is not convinced the interconnect is the answer to Utah's economic problems.
"After all, the average wage per tourism job in 1986 is only $4.61 hourly or $8,854 a year . . . Would spending millions on more tourist attractions do anything to elevate our economy more?"
Tom Welch, a member of the Utah Winter Games Committee, said the interconnect system would have no bearing on the Olympics if the games should come to the state. More important, Welch said, no development should take place in the Wasatch Canyons that is not environmentally appropriate for Utah.
Although not as represented as opponents to the system, proponents also made their feelings known.
Candidate for the U.S. Congress, Second District, Richard Snelgrove said, "It is true we have the best snow on earth. Our ski industry is a vital part of our economy and tourist industry. It is now time to expand and attract more tourists. That's why I'm endorsing the interconnect proposal."
Craig Badami, president of the Utah Ski Association, said the interconnect is a "tremendously beneficial project" for Utah.
"There's no cost to taxpayers, 1,400 new jobs, increased tax revenues while still keeping a protected environment and safe passage for the public," he said.
Following this second hearing, planners will begin work on a preliminary master plan proposal that is expected to go to the county planning commission early next year.