The Uinta National Forest Service says a proposal to give protective designations to 26,250 acres in the Provo Peak basin area "has merit" but is not timely.
The Forest Service won't evaluate the proposal until a review of the Forest Service's lands and resource management plan begins in 1992. Forest Service officials made that decision Thursday, one day after receiving the proposal from the Rock Canyon Preservation Alliance."What we're saying is it is untimely to amend the forest plan since it is scheduled for revision in 1994," said Loyal Clark, spokeswoman for the Uinta Forest.
The Rock Canyon proposal couldn't be more timely, according to members of the alliance. They plan to meet with Forest Service officials next week to try to convince them."We think it would be very inappropriate for them to dismiss this out of hand," said Sam Rushforth, a member of the alliance.
The alliance wants the designations to protect critical watershed, prevent erosion of the mountains and consequent flooding, to protect wildlife habitat and prevent commerical development in the area. A ski resort has been proposed for the area by Seven Peaks Resort owner Victor Borcherds.
Clark said the alliance's proposal will be kept on file and considered during the plan review scoping process. Forest Service management plans are reviewed every 10 years; the Uinta Forest's plan was last revised in 1984.
"We're going to work on that and hope they won't stick to that position," Rushforth said. "I think it was their opinion that this (the amendment process) could not be done in a short period of time. They thought it would take more than a year to do (an environmental impact review). We presented information that it could be done much quicker."
Alliance members think an environmental impact assessment, rather than an environmental impact statement, would adequately address all issues raised in the Rock Canyon proposal. An environmental impact assessment can be completed in as short a time as two weeks, while impact statements typically take a year or more to complete.
The suggestions and proposals made by the alliance are "pretty close to what's been brought up in the EIS (completed for a ski resort proposed by Seven Peaks)," Clark said.
Alliance members disagree.
"The suggestions and proposals are what should have been in the EIS," said Jim Harris. "They are most definitely not what's in there now. The EIS is grossly inadequate. The no-action proposal is skimmed over. The benefits of not building a ski resort are not adequately dealt with in the EIS."
Alliance member Paul A. Cox said Utahns have long had access to the local mountains and will "deeply resent the Forest Service turning this area over to a foreign developer."
"Historically, our ancestors, who came into this valley over 100 years ago, realized the importance of this watershed," Cox said. "And, it's because other citizens of the valley realized the importance of the area and petitioned Congress in the 1930s to protect the watershed that we have this lovely area today.
"It is important for the Forest Service to realize that these lands belong to all of us and that as citizens our requests to have them protected should receive as much or more consideration as that made by a private developer from a foreign country."
Borcherds is originally from South Africa but has lived in Utah County since 1983.
Clark said the Rock Canyon proposal "will not have a bearing" on Borcherds' proposal. "Seven Peaks is either going to go or not on its own merits," she said.
Borcherds has until the end of the year to provide the Forest Service with revised air quality studies and financial assurance that he can complete construction of the proposed resort.
If he does provide the information - Borcherds says he will submit it by the end of October - the environmental impact statement completed for the project will be revised, a public hearing period will be held and a new record of decision issued by Forest Supervisor Don Nebeker.
That decision will then be subject to appeal, Clark said.
The Rock Canyon Preservation Alliance is requesting that:
- 20,500 acres on Provo Peak/Cascade Mountain/Lightning Peak be designated a scenic area.
- 2,350 acres in the Rock Canyon drainage west of the Squaw Peak Trail be managed as a wildlife habitat protection area.
- 3,400 acres in Slate and Slide Canyons west of the Squaw Peak Trail be managed as a wildlife habitat protection area.
- All lands in the Pleasant Grove Ranger District south of the Provo River not included in those designations be made a watershed protection and improvement area.
Development of a ski resort, such as proposed by Seven Peaks Resort, or any other commercial enterprise, would be prohibited. However, the area would remain open to outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, hunting and driving.