SALT LAKE CITY — A hard-scrabble compromise involving land trades for ski resort expansions, new wilderness and a federal land designation for the Wasatch canyons remains on the table, but more questions than answers remain over its ultimate fate.
"The concerns we have heard is that we are putting the cart before the horse," according to Josh Satterfield, legislative assistant for Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, who has agreed to carry the legislative proposal first introduced in 2016 by then-Congressman Jason Chaffetz.
Members of the Central Wasatch Commission met Thursday with key staffers from Love's office. The Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act proposes to set aside 80,000 acres for protection and facilitate land trades between the Forest Service and four Salt Lake County ski resorts for expansion.
It would also establish 8,000 acres of new wilderness.
Although Love has agreed to carry the bill forward, Satterfield said there is no timetable "right now" on when that might happen.
Some provisions in the bill continue to be negotiated, he added.
"We understand it has been developed through a yearslong process and we don't want to throw a wrench in that," he said, noting the office does have questions and concerns.
The Utah Department of Transportation is in the midst of an environmental impact statement for the Little Cottonwood Canyon Road, a process that is just beginning the public input period. The final document and recommendations won't be released until 2020.
Some critics of the designation and potential ski resort expansions say the canyons' transportation troubles, water issues and public amenities need to be addressed before there is an effort to attract even more visitors.
"Our concern is this is going to generate national publicity through a federal designation," said Barb Cameron, head of the Big Cottonwood Community Council. "That should be done when we have the proper infrastructure in place."
Cameron cited problems with traffic and crowds and a lack of potable water in a canyon that attracts 1.7 million visitors a year.
Others at the meeting complained local residents had been left out of the public input process for the legislation, which grew out of the now defunct Mountain Accord.
"There was no effort to include small-property owners," said Bill Clayton, who said he owns a quarter-acre lot with a cabin in Little Cottonwood Canyon that has been in his family since the 1870s.
"This was sent straight from the executive committee of Mountain Accord to Chaffetz," he said, instead of being aired before multiple community councils, city councils or even the Salt Lake County Council for approval.
"We felt like we were getting thrown under the bus" during the Mountain Accord process, he said. "(In the future) we would appreciate a phone call from Mia Love."
Some ski resorts, too, are backing off some of the provisions in the land trades.
Mike Vaughan with Alta said the resort is interested most in preserving the experience people get at the resort, not necessarily attracting more and more visitors.
"If we don't manage (growth), it will manage us," he said.
He said the resort owners are no longer interested in offering Grizzly Gulch as part of a trade with the Forest Service.
The designation, too, brings an "overlay" of more regulation — on top of city, county and Forest Service control — that Vaughan said is not necessarily palpable.
"It does not seem like an overlay that works to our advantage."
Love's deputy district director, Barry McLerran, said it will be up to commission members and the parties involved in the negotiations to work out the final details before the legislation moves ahead.3 comments on this story
"We are fully supportive of this if it is the result of locals coming together."
Chairman Chris McCandless said he is confident necessary revisions will be made to the bill to make it better.
"It is important this get done."
The Chaffetz measure drew the ire of Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, last legislative session. Noel ran a bill that would first require the nod of a legislative natural resources committee before a governmental entity seeks a federal land designation. The bill did not pass.