In Mountain Accord, is there a ‘grand bargain’ or a ‘non-answer?’
A large crowd of Parkites and others gathered Tuesday night to discuss long-range plans for the Wasatch Mountain region, broaching a wide variety of topics that included transportation and the environment, during an event at Park City High School.
The gathering drew approximately 350 people to offer opinions about the Mountain Accord, a process that involves a group of government entities, business interests and not-for-profit organizations. Park City and Summit County are among the governments that are participating. The Mountain Accord is an attempt to craft a blueprint for the future of the Wasatch Mountain region, which remains under pressure by growth. It involves related topics like transportation, the environment, recreation and the economy.
The audience on Tuesday was too large for the high school’s lecture hall. As people crammed into the room at the start, the organizers moved the event to the Eccles Center. There were numerous current and former Park City and Summit County elected officials, high-ranking government staffers, resort industry executives, activists and rank-and-file Parkites in attendance. The people at the gathering studied visual aids, chatted with Mountain Accord representatives and appeared to discuss the topics amongst themselves outside the Eccles Center.
Much of the time was set aside for audience questions for a panel of Mountain Accord participants, including Summit County Councilor Chris Robinson and Park City Councilor Andy Beerman. The two represent their respective constituents on Mountain Accord.
In one of the broad statements of the evening, Peter Metcalf, who is the Outdoor Industry Association’s representative on the Mountain Accord, said there is a potential for a "grand bargain" through the process that could end the continuing battles about individual issues.
Some of the questions to the panel included strong statements from the person speaking. It seemed that many of the people in attendance were suspicious of the impacts of Mountain Accord on Park City and surrounding Summit County.
Rich Wyman, a Park City resident and longtime activist who stresses issues like smart growth and work force housing, questioned whether a tunnel from the Cottonwood Canyons to Park City would be wise. Tunnels are one of the ideas that the Mountain Accord is considering as it crafts transportation plans.
Wyman said it appeared that Mountain Accord is preparing the region for another bid for a Winter Olympics. Few Utahns ski, he added, saying that ideas in the Mountain Accord "fan the economic development" of the Wasatch Front. Robinson responded that the Mountain Accord will not supersede the authority of local government’s to make planning and zoning decisions.
Another question, from Pinebrook resident Mike Andrews, centered on a Mountain Accord price tag and how any work would be funded. Jeff Heilman, a Mountain Accord consultant, told Andrews there has not been a full analysis. He said ideas include federal funding, monies from the state government, funding assistance from local governments and user fees.
"In other words, that’s a non-answer," Andrews responded.
If all the Mountain Accord ideas are pursued, the cost could run up to $3 billion, the consultant said.
Julie Hooker, who lives at Kimball Junction, said local issues should be stressed rather than those faced by a city like Sandy in the Salt Lake Valley.
Beerman fielded a question about the prospects of a rail connection in the region. The City Councilor said Park City is "fairly unanimous" in its concerns about one. He said he prefers further ideas for Park City’s S.R. 224 and S.R. 248 entryways first. Information about the cost is also needed, he said.
Robinson, meanwhile, earlier told the crowd "more transit solutions" are needed.
"We cannot handle more cars," he said.
In an interview afterward, Joe Kernan, a Prospector resident and a former member of the Park City Council, said the community has four choices to solve the transportation issues: allow traffic jams to continue, build a light rail system, widen roads or ride buses.
"This whole town is in denial over this transportation issue," Kernan said, adding, "They don’t want any of them. Pick one. Agree on one."
He said he would "be glad to pay for the light rail" from Park City to Salt Lake City. He said a rail connection would reduce traffic, not require roads to be widened and would not force people to ride buses.
Clay Stuard, a Park Meadows resident who once served on the Park City Planning Commission, said in an interview he opposes a connection between Park City and the Cottonwood Canyons. He said a connection would increase growth pressure and threaten the small-town character of Park City.
Stuard said he wants the elected officials in Park City and Summit County to pass a joint resolution opposing a connection prior to an April meeting of the Mountain Accord executive committee. If the executive committee does not remove the idea for a connection, City Hall and the County Courthouse should not provide additional funding to Mountain Accord, Stuard said.
"I don’t want a connection between the Cottonwood Canyons and Park City, whether it’s bus, rapid bus or a train running through tunnels," he said.
The discussions about Mountain Accord come at a time when worries about traffic have been pronounced in Park City even as leaders have made progress on transit, including introducing a bus line between Park City and Salt Lake City. Transportation has seemed to be one of the Mountain Accord topics of greatest interest in the Park City area.
Laynee Jones, the Mountain Accord program manager, said in an interview the input from the Tuesday event and a similar one in Salt Lake City on Wednesday will be summarized. The executive committee will consider the Mountain Accord’s next steps at a meeting in April. She said one of the steps likely will be a study of transportation options. A final Mountain Accord document and decision is expected at the end of 2016, she said.
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The Park City Council primary election is slated for Aug. 13, but the ballots in the vote-by-mail contest were scheduled to be sent on Tuesday. The Summit County Clerk’s Office anticipates the ballots will arrive in mailboxes and post-office boxes on Friday or Saturday.