WASHINGTON — Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker and Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon have taken a stand against a plan that would include the sale of 30 acres of federal land to help connect The Canyons and Solitude ski resorts.
Becker testified Friday before the House Natural Resources subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands. The subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, the sponsor of H.R. 3452, the measure that would authorize the land sale that would facilitate the proposed mile-long gondola. The bill is also supported by Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, and co-sponsored by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, all R-Utah.
In a joint statement, Becker and Corroon said the plan to sell the land "violates our current policies, developed over decades of public processes, fails to acknowledge important resources and uses in the Wasatch Canyons, and would damage our prized environment and balance of public uses and users."
The resolution would make the federal land for sale at fair-market value to be utilized in the creation of a "SkiLink" gondola transportation system to connect the two resorts — The Canyons in Summit County and Solitude Mountain Resort in Salt Lake County.
"Economic analysis of SkiLink shows it would infuse another $50 million a year into Utah's economy and create 500 new jobs in the tourism and hospitality industries by creating the largest interconnected ski network in the United States and providing access to more than 6,000 acres of existing ski terrain," the bill says.
But the two mayors say the proposal has been insufficiently vetted. "Ignoring the importance of our sensitive watershed areas is unacceptable and sets a perilous precedent for the future of this resource for the entire Salt Lake Valley," Becker said.
Corroon said he "will not support measures which compromise our environment, watersheds or protect wilderness."
A statement from Lee is representative of the position others in the delegation have taken. "I will always support measures that will give the state of Utah more control over Utah's land. Tourism is an extremely important part of the state economy, and releasing this small section of land from federal control so that it may be sold and developed will improve Utah's tourism appeal while increasing transportation efficiency and creating jobs," Lee said.
The Forest Service also testified against the proposal on Friday, saying it would split a roadless area in two and leave a narrow corridor of private land in the middle of a national forest.
"While we appreciate the desire of the bill's proponents to reduce traffic between the two resorts, the department does not support" the legislation, said acting deputy chief of staff Gregory Smith, who called it "inconsistent with efforts to consolidate ownership within forest boundaries."
Mike Goar, managing director for The Canyons, also testified before the subcommittee. "This is a tremendous first step in creating transportation alternatives," Goar said. "Gondolas are used all over the world for transportation. ... Every car taken off the road is a win for all of us."
The proposed inter-resort gondola is "the camel's nose under the tent" that could open the mountains to further ski area development, said Jeff Niermeyer, public utilities director for Salt Lake City, which was ceded control of the Wasatch canyons long ago by Congress for a water supply.
Niermeyer said five of the seven Wasatch ski areas that practically rub shoulders are working on plans to add chair lifts to the backcountry, some as links to neighboring resorts. He opposes all of the plans.
Contributing: The Associated Press