Motion filed to add Summit County and Park City to Mountain Accord lawsuit
Expanded lawsuit would include all cities, counties involved with the Accord
Will Fontenot, the lawyer representing canyon landowners in the lawsuit against the now defunct Mountain Accord program, filed a motion on Monday to expand the lawsuit to add all cities and counties involved with the Accord as defendants, including Summit County and Park City.
If a judge approves the request, the Utah Transit Authority, Wasatch Front Regional Council, Cottonwood Heights, Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, Draper City, Summit County and Park City, will be added to the lawsuit, according to the court filing. Other government signatories to the Accord would also be included.
Fontenot said he is “very confident” a judge will allow the amendment to go through.
Last year, Cardiff Canyons Owners Association and an individual named Norman Robert Henderson filed the lawsuit out of concern that decisions were being made in a secretive and non-democratic process, Fontenot said. Cardiff Canyon Owners Association represents 1,100 acres of private property that reaches from lower Cardiff and the Cardiff Bowl over the ridge toward Alta.
The Mountain Accord was created in 2012 as a collaborative effort to create a cohesive plan for the central Wasatch Mountains to address growth and development issues related to the environment, transportation, the economy and recreation. Park City Municipal and Summit County were among the program’s members, contributing $200,000 and $100,000, respectively.
“The overarching concern that (Henderson) and others have in the canyons is that players in the Mountain Accord are attempting to develop the canyon to benefit the ski resorts to the detriment of other landowners,” Fontenot said. “They attempted to give more land to the ski resorts at their bases, obviously for development. There is an idea that my clients are developers, but they are really conservationists. They don’t want to have their rights taken away from them and given to the ski resorts in a way that disadvantages them.”
The lawsuit is seeking judgement against Mountain Accord for alleged violations of Open and Public Meetings Act (OPMA). Proponents claimed the group was not subject to OPMA because it was not a government entity. In July, a district court judge ruled Mountain Accord was a public body subject to OPMA.
Dave Thomas, Summit County’s chief civil deputy attorney, said in an email to <i>The Park Record</i> that the county has not been served with the lawsuit, but is aware of the plaintiff’s motion to amend it. He added, “In all actions undertaken by Summit County with regard to Mountain Accord, we have complied with the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act.”
“It is unclear as to what specific action the Plaintiff alleges the County is to have engaged in which violates the Act,” Thomas wrote. “We will continue to evaluate this lawsuit and will file an Answer or other dispositive motion should we be served.”
Summit County Council Chair Chris Robinson, who was also a member of the Mountain Accord’s executive committee, said the Mountain Accord process followed “real open process.”
“I think the plaintiffs have an axe to grind over some open lands,” he said.
Park City Attorney Mark Harrington declined to comment.
Last month, Utah State Auditor John Dougall revealed the findings from his audit review of the Accord. He said the program showed a lack of transparency regarding expenditures, which created confusion among participants and led to limited public oversight. But, he did find that the program appropriately spent $7.5 million.
Fontenot said the decision was made to add the government entities to the lawsuit because no one was appearing on behalf of the Mountain Accord.
“My clients could seek a default against Mountain Accord, but they don’t want to do that,” he said. “They want the truth to come to light. The government entities that will be added to the lawsuit will have to come forward and put up a defense.”
Fontenot said he understands the confusion because Utah state law does not clarify how to sue a public body.
“But, to me, the solution is easy – sue the executive board,” he said.
Becca Gerber, a first-term member of the Park City Council who is seen as bringing a younger person’s perspective to the Marsac Building, will seek reelection this year.