Questions abound as Mountain Accord discussions continue
June 5, 2015
There seem to be more questions than answers surrounding the Mountain Accord discussions that are taking place in Summit County and in Park City.
County Council members spent more than an hour on the topic Wednesday night and don’t appear to be any closer to deciding whether or not to continue participating.
County Council members are repeatedly going back to the question: what benefits will the county derive from staying a party at the table?
"It doesn’t seem to me that I can articulate many benefits, but I can articulate many risks," County Council member Claudia McMullin said. "It’s unclear what we are bound by and if the will of others can be imposed on Summit County when the county is not for whatever that action is. If we are not getting anything why would we subject ourselves to any risk in that regard? It doesn’t sound like we are very supported."
The Mountain Accord started in the fall of 2012 as a collaborative process to make long- term decisions that affect the central Wasatch Mountains as they relate to transportation, the environment, economy and recreation. The county’s main interest is in seeking assistance identifying transportation solutions, especially on the Interstate 80 corridor, and along State Roads 224 and 248.
However, County Councilor Chris Robinson, a member of the executive board of the Mountain Accord, said the "jury is still out as to what degree legitimate funding and attention to our issues will be given and the assurance that nothing we don’t like will be forced upon us."
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Robinson said some of the members of the executive board want the county’s transportation issues studied separately from the Mountain Accord process.
"Are we just the ugly stepsister along for the ride?" Robinson quipped.
The Mountain Accord executive board met on May 24 and May 29 to review the language in a draft document. As Phase 1 of the process is nearing completion and any further participation would require the County Council to sign the agreement and contribute another $150,000 over three years. The County has already contributed $50,000 between 2013 and 2014.
The agreement among the more than 20 entities involved in Mountain Accord, including Summit County, Park City, Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, defines the funding amounts through 2017. According to Summit County Chief Deputy Attorney Dave Thomas, "quite of few members" of the accord have signed the agreement and pledged funding for another three years, but neither the county nor Park City have.
Elected officials in Summit County and Park City have adamantly stated they are not in favor of one particular element in the Central Wasatch blueprint: a connection between the Wasatch Back and Salt Lake Valley, particularly between Park City and Big Cottonwood Canyon.
Laynee Jones, program manager with Mountain Accord, said the 23 members of the executive board have "generally agreed" the connection would not be a part of any federal or environmental studies involving binding results.
"They have had a discussion of removing that from those studies," Jones said. "Because those studies mean you are serious about something."
Robinson and Park City Councilman Andy Beerman, who also sits on the executive board, have expressed a desire to still have a connection studied with the understanding that the results won’t be binding. The study Beerman and Robinson support would have to include all types of connections, including train, tunnel, bus, aerial and ski.
Beerman said the possibility of a study has been "delicately negotiated" to specifically explore the principle of whether a connection should even be considered.
"People are still wondering how a connection would impact us and we don’t have any good information on that," Beerman said. "It was carefully crafted to look at a spectrum of modes the purpose is to inform us."
City Council members spent a significant amount of time Thursday on the study proposal, with some members questioning the purpose of even studying the connection when it is viewed so negatively.
Tim Henney, Park City Council member, said he is unable to grasp why a study would be conducted on something that is not favored by the involved entities.
"Intuitively, I understand working regionally and planning. But if we already pulled it out of Mountain Accord as an actionable item and things are changing so rapidly, what we have is a reality of today that in 10 years or even five years could be obsolete."
Jones said if the high-level study is not supported, then no type of connection would be studied, including ski or aerial, which both Park City and Summit County are supportive of exploring. Jones said officials in the Wasatch Front are particularly opposed to those types of connections and favor mass transit.
"It would be an all or nothing study," Jones said.
Neither the City nor County Council made any decisions about either the study or continued participation in the Mountain Accord discussions. Both agreed to continuously revisit the topic in coming weeks.