Central Wasatch Commission approves new draft of wilderness act bill

The Central Wasatch Commission recently approved a new draft of a bill that proposes a federal land designation for land exchanges and protections in the central Wasatch Mountains, and will likely prevent any connection between Park City and Big Cottonwood Canyon.

The Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act would preserve thousands of acres of U.S. Forest Service land and add additional acres of wilderness, including approximately 975 acres in Summit County located along the ridge separating Park City and Big Cottonwood Canyon. The Central Wasatch Commission was created to implement the goals of the now-defunct Mountain Accord.

Former U.S. Congressman Jason Chaffetz originally introduced the bill in 2016. But, the measure never went beyond the House Committee on Natural Resources, a subcommittee on federal lands. Congressman Rob Bishop chaired the subcommittee at the time. The Summit County Council nearly pulled out of the public lands initiative in 2017 because many said the county’s interests were not being represented in the overall bill.

Summit County Council member Chris Robinson, who acts as the county’s representative on the Central Wasatch Commission, suspects the new version of the bill has a higher likelihood of moving forward in the upcoming legislative session than the original legislation did when it was first introduced. Park City Mayor Andy Beerman is on the Central Wasatch Commission board.

Robinson blamed the original bill’s failure on a loss of momentum in the transition from the Mountain Accord to the Central Wasatch Commission. The 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.

“What is being worked on right now is a reintroduced version of the bill,” he said. “But we don’t have a sponsor.”

The bill would protect Summit County’s watersheds in the central Wasatch Mountains, along with the common boundary between Summit and Salt Lake counties and prevent ski resort expansion in the monitors, a 975-acre area in Summit County.

The new draft of the legislation was approved on Nov. 20. It is the third iteration of the bill that the commission has reviewed. The most recent version of the draft removes Alta Ski Lifts, which operates Alta Ski Area, from the land exchanges and holds their private lands harmless, Robinson said. It also includes land exchanges for Solitude, Brighton and Snowbird resorts.

“We have gone through a lot of revisions of the draft because there have been a number of issues around the town of Alta, Alta Ski Lifts, and dispersed recreation and environmental protection,” he said. “We have been working hard since July, but in earnest over the last three weeks to try and find a way forward that would be acceptable to Alta Ski Lifts and the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance.”

Robinson said the next steps will be to promote the legislation to policy makers at the state and federal level in the hopes of recruiting a legislator to sponsor the bill.

“It’s unfortunate that we don’t have Alta totally within the tent, but we have tried really hard and this was the only way that we could get consensus among the rest,” he said. “They may work against the legislation and that would be a fact of life that we will just have to deal with. But, things are set in motion that are concrete and demonstrable.”

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