SkiLink passed a major hurdle in Congress this week as legislation supporting the interconnect took its first step forward. With a narrow win following party lines, the House Natural Resources Committee voted to approve H.R.3452, "Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act," allowing the bill supporting SkiLink to move on to the United States House Floor.
The SkiLink project - a gondola that would connect Canyons Resort with Solitude - garnered attention when federal legislation was introduced in November.
The bill provided a way for Canyons Resort to access the 30 acres federal land needed to build the interconnect by allowing the U.S. Forest Service to sell it to Canyons Resort. H.R. 3452 was sponsored in both the Senate by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and in the House by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah).
Mike Goar, the managing director of Canyons Resort told The Park Record Friday the committee approval is "significant milestone," with a long road ahead.
"We're cautiously optimistic about the entire process," Goar said, "and we know this was an important step that has been taken."
Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ) proposed an amendment in place of a substitution that would hinder the original legislation Bishop wrote.
"This does have to be done in Washington, D.C., because it involves forest industry land," Bishop said in committee against the amendment. "SkiLink cannot be done without those 30 acres, and the acreage is not a part of watershed."
Because of environmental concerns with the interconnect and its potential impact on the Salt Lake County watershed, strong opposition has arisen, from nonprofits such as Save Our Canyons and both the Salt Lake City and County mayors.
"The Wasatch Range and its watershed areas are extraordinarily valuable to the citizens of the Salt Lake Valley," said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker. "H.R. 3452 removes our citizens from decisions affecting our public lands, paving the way for a controversial project in our treasured mountains without good examination of watershed, environmental or transportation impacts."
Salt Lake County Mayor Corroon, who is beginning a broad public planning process for the Wasatch Mountains also expressed his disappointment in the legislation's committee passage.
"The federal process is premature," Corroon said in a press release Wednesday. "It needs to start with the local community, not with the feds mandating what happens with land in Utah."
Even if both the U.S. House and Senate pass the bills, Canyons Resort will still need local approval from both Summit and Salt Lake Counties. The U.S. Forest Service parcel would belong to Canyons Resort, but would not necessarily permit the resort to build a gondola.
Bishop said opposition was more from select individuals, not the whole state.
"The Salt lake Council has looked at this," Bishop said. " I also understand the state Legislature is passing a resolution in favor of it. Former mayors have supported it. This is not necessarily opposed by everyone in Utah."