P.C.-backed land bill advances
In a vote cheered by City Hall, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill pushed by the local government that, if it is endorsed by the Senate and signed by President George W. Bush, would advance Park City’s renowned open-space program.
City Hall for years has desired to own several Bureau of Land Management parcels in Park City. The legislation, introduced in July 2005 by Rob Bishop, the Republican congressman who represents Park City, would transfer about 110 acres of prized bureau land to the city.
The two parcels involved are known as ‘Gambel Oak’ and ‘White Acre.’ The Gambel Oak ground sprawls over 88 acres between April Mountain and Solamere. The White Acre land, 22 acres, sits north and east of the Aerie.
According to Park City Manager Tom Bakaly, if the bill is approved, City Hall would negotiate to purchase mining claims that now entangle the Gambel Oak land. People who hold the mining claims do not own the land but have some rights. The claims have complicated negotiations in the past regarding the land.
Bakaly said the mining claims could cost slightly less than $2 million. The per-acre cost would be similar to other open-space purchases by the local government. Bakaly said he expects that Mayor Dana Williams and the Park City Council will consider a deal for the mining claims in about a month.
City Hall has about $3 million remaining in its open-space coffers from a 2002 conservation bond. The City Council is considering asking voters to approve another bond in November but the details, including the amount, have not been publicized.
"It’s 110 acres in the heart of town with lots of trails," Bakaly said, predicting there is a "high likelihood" that the legislation will pass the Senate and be signed by the president.
He said City Hall appreciates Bishop’s efforts regarding the legislation.
The Gambel Oak parcel is particularly notable as it was, in the 1990s, scouted by the Air Force as a potential location for a military hotel. That idea fizzled and, since then, City Hall has tried to strike a deal to transfer the land from the federal government to the local government.
In an interview, Bishop, like Bakaly, was happy with the vote, noting what he sees as the importance of the open space.
"They have no function in an urban setting," Bishop said about the BLM, a federal agency that has vast land holdings in the West, calling the agency’s role in Park City as being an "absentee landlord."
The congressman expects that the bill will clear the Senate and be signed by Bush in 2006.
According to a summary of the legislation from Bishop’s office, the bill requires that the land remain as undeveloped open space and be kept available for recreation. It allows Park City, though, to build trails, signs and utilities.
Meanwhile, the bill orders the Interior Department to put two other BLM parcels in downtown Park City on the market. The proceeds from those sales would be earmarked for environmental work managed by the BLM’s Salt Lake office, according to Bishop’s office.
Steve Olsen, Bishop’s Democratic challenger in November, said he hadn’t been briefed regarding the details of the bill by Tuesday morning and declined to comment.
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