SkiLink sides, sharply divided, prepare for public appearance in Basin
February 26, 2013
Some of the key figures in the SkiLink dispute — supporters and detractors — are scheduled to appear at a forum in the Snyderville Basin on Thursday evening in what is anticipated to be an event that illustrates the sharp divide between the sides.
It will be one of the first major public discussions about SkiLink held in the Park City area in the year-plus since Canyons Resort owner Talisker Corp. made public its desire to build a gondola connecting Canyons Resort to Big Cottonwood Canyon’s Solitude Mountain Resort.
The Project for a Deeper Understanding, a group that occasionally hosts forums about civic issues, is hosting the event. It is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 4595 N. Silver Springs Road, off S.R. 224. The panelists are scheduled to be Mike Goar, the managing director of Canyons Resort; Carl Fisher, the executive director of Save Our Canyons; Laura Briefer, who is with the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities, and Dave DeSeelhorst from Solitude Mountain Resort.
The panelists will give remarks and a question-and-answer session is scheduled after they speak. Charles Robinson, the pastor at St. Luke’s, said past forums have drawn between 60 and 70 people each.
The SkiLink proposal, made public in the fall of 2011, calls for a gondola between the two mountain resorts. The supporters claim that SkiLink would enable the state’s ski industry to better compete with resorts located elsewhere. They also argue that SkiLink would be an environmentally friendly means of transportation that would reduce traffic between the Park City area and Big Cottonwood Canyon.
The opposition, though, refutes the claims and contends that SkiLink would encroach on the backcountry between the Park City area and Big Cottonwood Canyon, a popular spot for skiers, snowboarders and snowshoers in the winter and hikers and bicyclists at other times of the year. The opposition questions the success SkiLink would have in cutting traffic.
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SkiLink depends on the sale of approximately 30 acres of federal land to Talisker Corp. Congressional legislation that would authorize the sale was introduced in late 2011. Congress has not passed the bill.
Goar said he is "willing and ready to hear both sides of the debate" at the event. He acknowledged, though, that the opposition normally is energized when a forum is organized like the one on Thursday.
Goar said the SkiLink bill, if passed, creates a process for the gondola connection to be considered rather than approving it outright. He said the approval process would be shifted away from the federal government if the legislation is approved and the acreage is sold.
"What it allows us to do is make an application with the local jurisdiction," Goar said, indicating that he will explain the process during the forum.
Fisher said he will broach topics like what he sees as the public not being involved in the SkiLink legislative process, concerns about the proposal’s impact on Salt Lake City’s drinking water and whether SkiLink will succeed in reducing traffic.
The panel discussion on Thursday will be one of the first major public forums in the Park City area about SkiLink. The gondola connection has been addressed locally only sporadically since the idea was introduced, but there has appeared to be great interest among people in the Park City area. Some have posted yard signs in opposition to SkiLink.
The SkiLink legislation, meanwhile, was one of the campaign issues in last year’s 1st Congressional District contest between Republican Rob Bishop, the incumbent and one of the bill’s sponsors, and Democrat Donna McAleer. The challenger, who was defeated by a wide margin, included opposition to SkiLink as one of her platform planks.