The Reverend Charles Robinson and his cohorts from the Project for Deeper Understanding pulled off a small miracle at St. Luke's Episcopal Church Thursday night a remarkably civil public dialog about the emotionally charged plans for SkiLink.
A crowd of around 300 interested citizens filled the church's sanctuary to hear from proponents and opponents of the project a proposed gondola connection between the Canyons and Solitude ski areas spanning a section of National Forest land atop the Wasatch Mountains.
Most of those who spoke criticized the project saying it would have detrimental impacts on an already fragile ecosystem and could set a dangerous precedent for future ski area expansion and development. To their credit, they delivered their comments with a respectful tone.
For their part, SkiLink's proponents, represented by Mike Goar and Dave DeSeelhorst, the managing directors of Canyons and Solitude, offered thoughtful answers to many attendees' concerns. They contend the proposed lift would have little to no environmental impact, would reduce car trips (and their associated emissions) between the two resorts, and would enhance Utah's reputation as a ski resort Mecca.
From the input Thursday night, though, it is apparent SkiLink is facing an uphill battle in the court of public opinion. While an interconnect would, arguably, give Utah's ski resorts an impressive boost in a highly competitive industry, representatives from Salt Lake City Hall and from the citizens' group Save Our Canyons justifiably demand that questions about environmental impacts should take precedence.
So far, there is not enough data to conclusively support either side's case. But even though Thursday's event at St. Luke's did not result in conclusive answers, it did provide a valuable opportunity to underscore the questions and an admirable template for continuing the dialog.
According to Robinson's group, their goal is to tackle polarizing issues in a public forum while insisting on civility and mutual respect. If we can continue to keep those guidelines in mind, we are much more likely to craft well-thought-out solutions for SkiLink and for many of the other complex issues facing our community today.