Ski resorts weigh in on land designations
July 29, 2016
At around this same time last year, the Summit County Council held a public hearing to propose new legislation through the Mountain Accord process that would place a federal land designation along Park City's skyline.
Most of the comments that were received from residents and backcountry users supported the bill's intent and its potential to preserve several hundred acres in Summit County. However, some of the local business leaders in the resort industry were leery of the bill's implications and whether it would prevent future resort expansions along the ridgelines. Two weeks ago, U.S. Congressman Jason Chaffetz formally introduced the bill in Congress.
The Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act aims to preserve more than 79,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land and adds 8,000 acres of wilderness, including 967 acres in the county. The portion that falls in the county covers 848 acres of land owned and administered by the U.S. Forest Service and 119 acres privately owned land within the administrative boundary.
At the time of the hearing, Bill Rock, chief operating officer for Park City Mountain Resort, wondered aloud what the legislation would mean for the future of the resorts along the Wasatch Front and Back and whether the Mountain Accord was the appropriate vehicle to use. According to the bill, it would not allow "lifts or people movers for the purpose of skiing outside of ski area permit boundaries…or outside the transportation corridors" that would be established through the legislation.
While Park City Mountain Resort lies outside of the boundary that is being proposed, it is adjacent to it and would be prevented from expanding its upper terrain. In an email to The Park Record on Thursday, Rock said they are still reviewing the details of the Mountain Accord.
"We are very supportive of all efforts to improve long-term planning for transit and transportation to the mountains, including along the Interstate 80 corridor," Rock wrote. "We think it's important to be cautious about using legislation to change the designation of federal lands and eliminating the local Forest Service NEPA process."
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In addition to the federal land designations, the four Cottonwood ski areas, including Solitude, are participating in land exchanges with the Forest Service for control of property at the base areas. Bob Wheaton, president and general manager of Deer Valley, which also owns Solitude, recently signed a letter supporting the legislation.
In an interview with The Park Record on Thursday, Wheaton said he has closely watched the drafting of the legislation, adding that he wasn't as apprehensive as others when it was introduced last year.
"We just wanted to be sure that everyone had their thoughts addressed and that the legislation would be a compilation of a lot of different focuses for the Wasatch Front," Wheaton said. "I think we were able to come up with something that does increase the amount of wilderness designation while giving the Forest Service additional tools to manage public lands. It also provides opportunities for ski areas to have a higher level of influence at the base areas."
Wheaton said Solitude is unique because 65 percent of it is on private land inside the ski-area boundary and 35 percent of it belongs to the Forest Service. He said the Forest Service owns more land at the base of the resort than up on the mountain.
"With the land exchange that is proposed for Solitude, we would trade 287 acres up on the mountain across from Solitude, adjacent to Forest Service property," Wheaton said. "It is more appropriate for Forest Service management, which is why they are excited about our particular proposals.
"This is one of those situations where everyone got a benefit, but no one got exactly as much as they would have wanted," he added.
Wheaton acknowledged the legislation could potentially affect future expansions and development. However, he emphasized the need to recognize the priority of the backcountry community and other public-land users.
"As part of that respect, we can't go in like a bull in a china shop. There is enough there that will benefit the ski areas. The Wasatch Front is a very finite jewel that we have and it is all of our collective responsibilities to properly steward what we have here," Wheaton said. "At this point we aren't concerned about anything that we have been able to identify, but through the legislation process things get tweaked and what is initially submitted isn't necessarily what comes out on the other end.
"We just need to keep an eye on it to be sure that, at least philosophically, what is proposed is what goes through," he added.
To read the bill in its entirety, go to https://www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/5718
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