The Forest Service's latest attempt at a land-swap compromise with Snowbasin Ski Resort has been targeted by multiple appeals charging the proposal's environmental impact statement is deficient.
Three last-minute appeals of the decision to exchange 695 acres of national forest land to the resort were filed Monday by the Sierra Club, the Coalition for the Preservation of Snowbasin and Bountiful resident Ronald Younger, a retired federal employee.The Sierra Club appeal represented a joint challenge by not only the club's Utah chapter, but the Wasatch and Ogden chapters of the Audubon Society, the Citizens Committee to Save Our Canyons and the Wasatch Mountain Club.
In his appeal, Younger said "this land exchange proposal is a real estate development masquerading as a four-season destination resort and must be rejected."
He said the EIS was inadequate and that Intermountain Regional Forester Stan Tixier's decision was "capricious and vague."
Susan Gianettinno, Wasatch-Cache Forest supervisor, disputed statements about the alleged inadequacy of the Snowbasin EIS that was conducted by the Forest Service.
"I really do feel we did an excellent job on the environmental analysis. I can understand the different views but feel the analysis is solid," she said.
Tixier was in Washington and could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The Sierra Club appeal not only claims the EIS is deficient but argues the land swap is at odds with the Wasatch-Cache Forest plan. Further, the Sierra Club charged that the proposal gives no consideration to availability of water or cost of obtaining and treating water lost to Pineview Reservoir.
The club also sees the proposal as an unauthorized accommodation for private developers' profits, alleges there was a lack of study to determine whether the land swap would endanger wildlife, finds the EIS inadequate in exploring wetland concerns, and implies there was undue congressional influence in the decision.
Although Sens. Orrin Hatch and Jake Garn and Rep. Jim Hansen, all R-Utah, pressured Tixier to accommodate the trade, the regional forester insists they did not influence his decision.
The appeal from the Coalition for the Preservation of Snowbasin, signed by director Linda Sauer, contends the swap "disobeys an act of Congress." She cited the Cache Receipts Act of 1938.
According to the appeal, the act was established to acquire by purchase any lands within the boundaries of the Cache National Forest "in order to minimize soil erosion and flood damage."
Gianettinno said the Cache Act still is in effect and continues to be the authority by which the Forest Service obtains lands.
"But it does not preclude our exchanging lands," she said.
An earlier Forest Service decision approving an exchange of 220 acres brought six appeals from both sides, prompting Tixier to reopen the matter.
His new decision, rendered Sept. 5, approved 695 acres for the exchange but stipulated deed restrictions to protect wetland areas and gave the federal government a first option to buy back the property if it is not developed as a ski resort.
Originally, Snowbasin owner Earl Holding requested 1,320 acres of national forest land to accommodate development of Snowbasin into a "world-class, four-season resort," including lodging, additional ski lifts, shops, golf and tennis facilities, restaurants and private residences.