Mountain Accord plan, with controls on development, wins approval
This week’s approval of the Mountain Accord plan was hailed by its executive board as a study in compromise and diplomacy.
But amid the congratulations lie some thorny questions left unanswered, especially should the accord support connecting the major ski resorts in Park City and the Cottonwood canyons.
The board voted unanimously to accept the plan, but averted an 11th-hour dispute by agreeing to language that satisfied environmental groups’ concerns about ski resorts connectivity.
Just 90 minutes before the meeting started, the opposing sides hammered out a compromise explicitly stating that upcoming studies would consider all ideas about connecting the resorts, even leaving them independent of one another.
The Accord’s plan had implied it was open to all solutions, board members said, but the frank statement saved the all-or-nothing vote despite leaving the issue unresolved for now. All sides saw victory.
"We really needed those things to get support from our organizations and more importantly a lot of the partners that we represent," said Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons, often the voice of environmental activists on the board. "Those additions were key. We wanted to not only support this but support this without conditions."
The vote was "a great moment," said Nathan Rafferty, president and CEO of Ski Utah and the pro-resort representative on the board. In the past, he and Fisher have squared off on opposing sides. On Monday, Rafferty said the outcome pleased him.
"You know we started this quite a while ago. It has certainly seen its bumps in the road through the process but ultimately there’s nothing like a deadline to get people to put their money where their mouth is.
"We had some really meaningful conversations with people that we had some difficult times working with in the past, and I’m encouraged with the process."
The Accord sets up a complicated set of land-swaps with the four ski resorts in the Cottonwood canyons. The resorts gain land at their bases while handing over to the federal government open land on their slopes.
Those trades and possibly buying up a patchwork of private land permanently set the boundaries between the resorts and open space.
In addition, the Accord also will study how to lower the number of cars that clog the roads to resorts on both the Salt Lake and Park City sides of the Wasatch. Future studies will investigate the best method to transport skiers between resorts while untying the traffic snarls that accompany peak ski season.
To move forward, the Accord faces three upcoming tasks.
Begin the environmental studies with the federal government critical to the land swaps.
Work with state and federal agencies to study transportation problems in Summit County, especially Interstate 80 from Salt Lake to Park City, and the traffic corridors of U.S. 40, S.R. 224 and S.R. 248.
Lobby Utah’s congressional delegation to bring the undeveloped land under the higher levels of federal protection.
"I’m incredibly pleased that we could make this milestone event," said Laynee Jones, the Mountain Accord’s program manager, following the meeting. "It’s a historic moment in time, and the sentiment in this room is that we all love these mountains, and they are incredibly important to us."
The Accord will begin in September to persuade congressional members to introduce bills that will preserve the open lands.
"We are asking Congress to act right away. That’s the big win. That’s the biggest one. That is our first order of business," she said.
The board also dropped a land-swap proposal with Snowbird Ski Resort that extended into the American Fork Canyon in Utah County. Residents there had protested the plan, saying they wanted to control the canyon’s future, not the Mountain Accord.
The Accord executive board comprises representatives from a host of area governments, environmental activists and business interests but no representative from Utah County. The board ceded the decision with Snowbird to those who live in American Fork.
Still, on Monday, agreement and accord were the favorite words. The board approved the plan after hearing concerns from the public and engaging in a round of polite discussion.
Fisher, of Save Our Canyons, said he had compromised to help reach the final version of the plan.
"If we were left to our own devices and we were king of the world, absolutely it would look a lot different," Fisher said. "But I think this is a great outcome and it reflects a future condition that is going to be beneficial to the recreation experience but most importantly our natural environment."
The vote was a critical milestone, said Andy Beerman, Park City Council member and Park City’s representative to the board.
"I think it’s unprecedented that we have had all these partners on the Wasatch Front and the Wasatch Back effectively plan our future in a way that we can implement something. We’ve never had the consensus or the political will to move forward."
Meredith Reed was elected to a two-year term as chair of the Summit County Democratic Party and said she sees an opportunity to ride the so-called blue wave that saw a Democratic surge nationally and within the state.