Congressional subcommittee reviews legislation developed through Mountain Accord
November 18, 2016
Summit County Council member Chris Robinson joined U.S. Congressman Jason Chaffetz in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday for a congressional hearing about a bill developed through the Mountain Accord process that proposes a federal land designation for land exchanges and protections in the Central Wasatch Mountains.
Robinson attended the legislative hearing before the House Committee on Natural Resources, a subcommittee on federal lands, with Tom Dolan, mayor of Sandy City, Bob Bonar, president and CEO if Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort, and Carl Fisher, of Save Our Canyons, along with many others. Utah's District 1 Rep. Rob Bishop chairs the subcommittee.
The Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act would preserve approximately 80,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land and add 8,000 acres of wilderness, including 967 acres in Summit County located along the ridge separating Park City and Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Chaffetz first introduced the legislation, which would also allow for land exchanges with ski resorts and the creation of transportation corridors, in July. It was developed over the last two years through the Mountain Accord process, a collaborative effort between many broad interests along the Wasatch Front and Back, including Summit County and Park City.
"Congressman Chaffetz did an admirable job of defending the bill and our Utah delegation is behind it," Robinson told the Summit County Council on Wednesday.
However, Robinson, who has referred to the bill as an important component of the Mountain Accord initiative, said there are still some concerns over its language. He also said the transportation piece is "lagging behind the land protection component."
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Layne Jones, a program manager with Mountain Accord, said the measure has only a small chance of getting passed this year, before quickly adding "which we were expecting during the rest of the lame-duck year."
"This was a productive step that we took this week toward moving the bill forward," Jones said. "We met with each one of our delegation members and they are all supportive. We are also very thankful Bishop gave us a hearing. Even though we will have to undertake this again next year, it was a very important box we can now check. "
While supporters continue to try and push the measure through Congress, the cities and counties that are participating in the Mountain Accord are being asked to sign an interlocal agreement to authorize the creation of a Central Wasatch Commission (CWC). The commission is being created as a government agency to formalize the Mountain Accord process, which currently is not a government entity.
Creation of the commission would allow the agency to seek, hold and distribute funds, and enter into contracts on behalf of the participating stakeholders. But, the commission will not have authority over local land uses or tax levies.
"It is a really important step we need to take forward to implement everything in the Accord. Having the commission is a major milestone," Jones said.
The commission will be comprised of representatives from Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City, Sandy City, Cottonwood Heights, Utah Department of Transportation and the Wasatch Back. Andy Beerman, a Park City Council member who also sits on the executive board of the Mountain Accord, will likely represent the Wasatch Back, Jones said. A stakeholder's council, comprised of the participating agencies such as the ski resorts and the Forest Service, will advise the commission.
"I'm excited if they ask me because I've been involved all the way back since the early stages and have invested a lot of time and energy into this effort," Beerman said. "I think it continues to be an effort that has been an excellent process and shows great promise for offering the protections we need."
Beerman said creation of the commission is both the "logical and necessary" next step in the process to provide the organization with structure. He said it will likely bring the Accord discussions back in front of the public.
"Prior to the creation of the commission, there has been a lot of administrative stuff going on," Beerman said. "But we have had some great things proposed and will start to have a few more projects in the works."
On Wednesday, the Summit County Council agreed to allow the commission to access the funds the county and other participating agencies agreed to contribute toward the collaborative process. Last year, the county pledged $150,000 over the next two years. The Park City Council signed the interlocal assignment several weeks ago. Their commitment was double that of the county's at $300,000.
Jones said the first public meeting of the commission before the public will be held sometime in December. She said monthly meetings will likely follow to ensure an open dialogue is maintained between the public and the commission.
"We want to make sure we have a good dialogue about everything that is going on and one of our first orders of business will be dealing with transportation issues and the need for more bus service in the areas surrounding Park City and the Cottonwoods."
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