Summit County narrowly approves $100,000 toward Wasatch ideals
New agreement with Central Wasatch Commission reallocates Mountain Accord pledge
June 16, 2017
The Summit County Council narrowly agreed to reallocate a $100,000 pledge from the Mountain Accord to the Central Wasatch Commission, an agency that is being created to implement the goals set by the Accord.
After a 30-minute discussion on Wednesday, County Council members approved the Central Wasatch Commission Interlocal Agreement, which authorizes the creation of the commission. The vote was split 3-2, with Chris Robinson, Kim Carson and Glenn Wright in favor of the measure, and Roger Armstrong and Doug Clyde dissenting. The item was listed on the agenda under consideration for approval. No input was taken.
The Central Wasatch Commission will initially consist of representatives from Sandy City, Cottonwood Heights, Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County. A representative of the Utah Department of Transportation or the Wasatch Back may be appointed to the board if approved by the founding members. The commission's creation will require certification and approval by Lt. Governor Spencer Cox.
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, it will not have authority over local land uses or tax levies. A stakeholder's council, comprised of the participating agencies such as the ski resorts and the Forest Service, will advise the commission.
In 2015, the Summit County Council pledged $150,000 over the course of three years to stay involved in the contentious Mountain Accord process, of which $50,000 has been paid.
At the time, leaders signed the Accord because it promoted federal land designations for land exchanges and protections in the Central Wasatch Mountains, in addition to the creation of transportation corridors between the Wasatch Front and Back. It gave the county a voice in the planning process and provided funding for a $400,000 transportation study of the Interstate 80 corridor.
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Council Chair Chris Robinson, who is also a former Mountain Accord executive board member, said it would be disingenuous not to honor the original pledge now that the I-80 study is underway. County Council member Kim Carson echoed his statements.
However, in Armstrong's view, the payments only support the Central Wasatch Commission. He added the $150,000 pledge was not made in exchange for the study, but for "a seat at the table."
As part of the Mountain Accord plan, the executive board, which included Robinson, removed the controversial tunnel connecting Park City with the Cottonwood canyons, a major concern among Wasatch Back leaders.
"When we made this financial commitment we had a seat at the table and we don't with the Wasatch Commission and I think the tunnel is still lurking here," Armstrong said. "The $150,000 was our part for participating in the Mountain Accord. It was not intended to fund the study so I'm still trying to understand this. It's an empty commitment."
Dave Thomas, chief civil deputy attorney, expressed similar concerns about the commission's intentions.
"My concern is they are just going to use the Mountain Accord to go in and get money under that umbrella and name," Thomas said. "Sandy City wants to put in a light rail through the Cottonwoods and punch a whole into Park City and I have not changed that opinion. I think that is still what they want and now it is a smaller group overseeing this."
Thomas said the county is no longer able to influence the process and renegotiate desires to explore a tunnel.
"There is an obvious reason why the Mountain Accord fell apart and these four primary members said 'we will do this ourselves,'" Thomas said.
In an email to The Park Record, Sandy City Deputy Mayor Nicole Martin said neither Mayor Tom Dolan nor Sandy City is advocating for a tunnel. Martin said the mayor is "very focused on immediate transportation improvements resulting in fewer cars, increased access to the canyons by more people, with less impact."
"His highest priority is to protect the City’s watershed and the eco system of the canyons while allowing residents for generations to enjoy this great natural resource," Martin stated. "Mountain Accord individuals discussed many long term transportation ideas. Mayor Dolan is supporting the creation of the commission to focus on the one-to-five year horizon and make improvements now."
Last week, Park City leaders also agreed to sign the interlocal agreement and pay the remaining $200,000 of their pledge. The commission's area of focus will be between I-80 and the Salt Lake County line south of Little Cottonwood Canyon, according to the Mountain Accord website.
"I don't think we need to think about all of the horrible things that may or may not come from this. The principal basis is we got a significant benefit out of this study and this is about honoring our agreement," Robinson said.