Congressman, stopping in Park City, pledges not to rush SkiLink bill | ParkRecord.com

Congressman, stopping in Park City, pledges not to rush SkiLink bill

Jay Hamburger The Park Record

Congressman Rob Bishop, sponsoring legislation needed for the SkiLink connection to move forward, faced a crowd that appeared to be largely in opposition to the bill during a stop in Park City last week.

Bishop, a Republican whose district includes Summit County, told a crowd at Wasatch Bagel Café the legislation would not be considered on a compressed schedule even as he spoke about the progress that had been made in Washington. He said he did not want to surprise people.

The legislation would authorize selling 30 acres of federal land to Canyons. The resort then wants to build the SkiLink gondola between Canyons and Solitude. The sale of the acreage is needed for the SkiLink gondola. Canyons and Solitude are on opposite sides of the ridgeline between Big Cottonwood Canyon and the Park City-area mountains.

"I am not going to rush this through the House or the Senate," Bishop told the crowd at the bagel café, adding, "I am going to take it very slow."

Bishop early in his remarks asked whether people came to the event to discuss SkiLink or other issues. Many people indicated in a show of hands they wanted to talk about the Canyons-Solitude connection.

There has been widespread criticism of SkiLink among environmental groups and outdoors enthusiasts. They want the mountainous terrain between the Park City area and Big Cottonwood Canyon to remain undeveloped, saying the backcountry should be free of lifts. They are also worried about the impact on the quality of drinking water.

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The supporters, though, contend that SkiLink can be completed in an environmentally sound fashion. They say connecting Canyons and Solitude would boost the state’s ski industry and Utah’s overall economy, arguing that there is not a similar resort-to-resort link in the United States.

People in the crowd asked questions and offered opinions about SkiLink. One person wondered whether there was an alternative that did not involve the sale of the federal land. Bishop said other alternatives would require more federal acreage and prompt concerns about the watershed. Another person broached the idea of providing year-round road access between Park City and Big Cottonwood Canyon via Guardsman Pass as a better option than SkiLink.

Andrew McLean, a well-known backcountry skier and ski mountaineer, worried about a precedent being set by selling the federal land. He said mountain resorts have been expanding through the Wasatch range.

"It seems like you’re selling them off to the highest bidder," he said.

In an interview after the event, Bishop said he would support transferring the federal land needed for SkiLink to the state. That way, he said, state leaders instead of Congress would decide how the land is used. Bishop said the U.S. Forest Service would oppose such a transfer, though.

Bishop’s appearance in Park City came the day before the Republican Party held caucuses. He is being challenged for the Republican nomination in his congressional district.

A Summit County resident, Jacqueline Smith, is one of the GOP challengers. She is painting herself as a more conservative alternate to Bishop. The congressman said in an interview it is difficult for a challenger to outflank him to the right.

"It’s hard to be more conservative than I am," he said.

Bishop also addressed immigration issues in his comments to the crowd, saying the nation’s borders must be secured before broader decisions are made. He mentioned that people are entering the U.S. illegally along the border near Tucson, Ariz. Securing the border, he said, would stop drug trafficking and human trafficking.

"This has to be the first step," Bishop said.