Democrats, debating in Park City, remain dubious about SkiLink | ParkRecord.com

Democrats, debating in Park City, remain dubious about SkiLink

by Jay Hamburger THE PARK RECORD

Donna McAleer and Ryan Combe, the two Democrats vying for the party s nomination in the 1st Congressional District, covered topics like the economy and President Obama s policies during a Monday debate at the Santy Auditorium. Tyler Cobb/Park Record

Neither of the two Democrats seeking the party’s nomination in the 1st Congressional District endorsed the idea to connect Canyons and Solitude with a gondola during a debate in Park City Monday night.

The SkiLink proposal is not anticipated to win support from many Democrats in the region, and the opposition from the two 1st District candidates — Donna McAleer and Ryan Combe — was expected. McAleer, however, seemed more forceful in her stand against the idea, likely a result of living in the Snyderville Basin. Combe is from South Ogden, a part of the congressional district that is more removed from the dispute about SkiLink. The 1st District encompasses a wide swath of northern Utah and includes Park City and surrounding Summit County.

McAleer told the crowd at the Santy Auditorium Theodore Roosevelt, who was a champion of the public lands of the West, would be disappointed with the idea to connect the two resorts. She said she wants the grandeur of Utah’s lands protected and said she had concerns about the effects on the watershed.

"Once they’re gone, they’re gone forever," McAleer said about the federal land that would be sold to the private sector if SkiLink is allowed, adding that the idea "puts profits ahead of the people."

Rob Bishop, the Republican congressman who awaits the McAleer-Combe winner on Election Day, is the sponsor of the SkiLink bill. The legislation would authorize the sale of approximately 30 acres of land to Talisker Corporation, the owner of Canyons, that is needed for the connection. Bishop sees SkiLink as something that would boost the economy and reduce traffic.

The idea has generated widespread interest in the Park City area and among environmental groups active in the Wasatch Mountains. The Democrats will likely press the issue during the fall campaign as they attempt to paint the incumbent as a politician tied to corporate interests.

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Combe said during the debate he was "very, very hesitant" about SkiLink. He said he wants to learn more about the environmental impacts and the economic forecasts. He said the SkiLink moves have sidestepped procedures. Combe also questioned whether Bishop should sponsor bills with effects outside the district.

The two candidates spent a little more than an hour answering questions from a three-person panel consisting of Bob Richer, who is a onetime Democratic Summit County Commissioner, Democratic state Sen. Ross Romero and Myles Rademan, who once was City Hall’s public affairs director. The questions covered a wide range of issues involving the economy, military spending, President Obama’s policies and nuclear waste.

The debate was the first of four that are planned between McAleer and Combe as the June 26 primary approaches. The others are scheduled elsewhere in the congressional district. Political observers were unsure when Park City last hosted a congressional-level debate. The debate on Monday appeared to draw between 150 and 200 people to the Santy Auditorium.

The economy will likely be the crucial issue of the campaign season. McAleer and Combe on Monday night fielded a question from Richer about the president’s economic plan and ideas to create jobs. McAleer said a balanced approach is needed looking at federal revenues and expenditures. Combe said Washington’s efforts to stimulate the economy were not bold enough. He said government stimulus is a key to a stable economy.

Some of the other highlights from the debate included:

  • both of the candidates saying they back the president’s support of same-sex marriage and Obama’s health care platform.
  • both of the candidates describing the importance of Hill Air Force Base, a major employer in the congressional district. Combe said the base can remain strong even amid cuts in military spending. McAleer said the base has created economic opportunities for the private sector.
  • Combe arguing that defense spending should be reduced.
  • McAleer saying that she does not want nuclear waste shipped from elsewhere in the country to be stored on tribal lands.
  • Combe claiming that the president has taken a soft stand while negotiating trade agreements.
  • McAleer telling the crowd she supports the reduction of forces in Afghanistan.