Top five news stories of 2011 |

Top five news stories of 2011

Sarah MoffittThe Park Record

2011 was a year full of epic snow, destructive flooding and new developments. While a past owner of Canyon’s Resort filed for bankruptcy, the current owners eyed a way to create one of the largest resorts in the United States. Ski resorts weren’t the only thing being linked, after four years of discussions; the Park City-Salt Lake City Connect bus began shuttling commuters up and down Parleys Canyon.

Salt Lake City-Park City bus

Discussions between Park City, Summit County and the Utah Transportation Authority began in 2008 as the involved parties tried to find a cost-effective way to take cars off Interstate 80. In September, the bus wheels began turning, offering residents a ride from Park City to Salt Lake City for $5.50. Thirty-day passes are available for $242. Three-day passes cost $33. The buses seat 56 people. Three Utah Transit Authority buses, equipped with Wi-Fi capability, will be used on the route.

Summit County Public Works Director Kevin Callahan touted the shuttle as a way for businesspeople and resort-workers to travel from home to work without having to use a vehicle or deal with traffic.

Ridership has been low in the past three months, but residents and officials remain supportive. Callahan said the light ridership is giving everyone a chance to work out the kinks in the system and expects the buses to become busier as more residents learn about the route. The bus makes seven round trips from Salt Lake City to Park City every weekday, beginning at 5:25 a.m. with the last bus leaving Park City at 7:44 p.m.

In mid-December the bus also began weekend service. Salt Lake City residents can take a morning bus up to a Park City resort and an evening bus back to Salt Lake City. In a previous interview with The Park Record, Nathan Rafferty, the president of Ski Utah, an industry group, said he expects skiers will take the bus to Park City. Visitors will eventually be able to take the bus and Trax between Park City and Salt Lake City International Airport.

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Wolf Mountain Resorts L.L.C. files for bankruptcy

Kenny Griswold, owner of Wolf Mountain Resorts L.L.C., made numerous headlines in 2011. The former owner of the Canyons Ski Resort was sued by Canyons in a five-year-long lawsuit initiated by American Skiing Company Utah, now a subsidiary of Canyons-owner Talisker. In April, Judge Robert Hilder and a jury ruled that Wolf Mountain Resort owed Canyons $54.4 million in damages, saying Wolf Mountain had purposely delayed the development of a golf course at the resort.

At a trial to finalize the ruling in May, Griswold’s attorney announced Wolf Mountain Resort had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in California, throwing a wrench in Canyons’ plan to collect the court-awarded money.

The case quickly became one of the most time consuming cases in the Third District Judicial Court. In May, Debbie Foust, judicial case manager at the Silver Summit branch of 3rd District Court, said the case file that began in June of 2006 has around 180 volumes. The next largest has under 50.

In September, Judge Hilder once again ruled against Griswold, upholding his previous decision and ruling that Wolf Mountain was responsible for paying $5.7 in Canyons attorney fees. Wolf Mountain’s bankruptcy hearing in California is still ongoing.

Spring runoff crests riverbanks

Beginning in April, East Side towns began filling sandbags and watching the rivers as the winter runoff raised water levels throughout Summit County. School children in North and South Summit filled sandbags during P.E. class and homeowners braced for the worst. The dire flood warning that was issued in the early spring subsided by late May but communities along the Weber River saw water levels continue to rise into June.

late June, McCleod Creek had crested its banks and sandbags lined Poison Creek in Park City. Campgrounds in Coalville were evacuated as the Weber River flowed into Camper World and neighboring pastures. A level 1 flood response was issued for the Wanship Dam and the maximum amount of water was released from the reservoir. Flooding along the Weber River between the Wanship and Echo Dams was limited and no major property damage was reported.

The Federal Emergency Management Association reimbursed Summit County $46,000 for costs incurred during the spring flooding. Summit County Public Works Director Kevin Callahan said the county spent approximately $150,000 from April through June for emergency response, sandbags and paying staff for overtime to aid the communities that were affected by the heavy snowmelt. While the FEMA reimbursement did not cover all of the county’s expenses, Summit County Manager Bob Jasper said the reimbursement was important because the money that was spent on flood response was not in the county’s budget.

SkiLink proposed between Canyons and Solitude

In late September, Talisker Mountain Incorporated, the parent company of Canyons, announced plans to link the resort to Solitude Mountain Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon. They said the move would decrease traffic up Big Cottonwood Canyon and create one of the largest ski networks in the United States.

In a previous The Park Record article, Ted Wilson, the director of governmental affairs for Talisker Mountain Incorporated, said a route between the two resorts would cover a little more than a mile. He described an alignment that would roughly run from the top of the Dreamcatcher lift or a nearby lift at Canyons to a spot at the lower parking lot at Solitude.

Immediately following the announcement, environmental interest groups began voicing their concern over the project. Save our Canyons said the interconnect, also called SkiLink, would damage the watershed between the two resorts and open up the backcountry to development.

Businesses, however, rallied behind the interconnect and a new group, Ski our Canyons Responsibly, was formed to support the link. Tom Richardson, owner of Park City Local Card, called on Park City residents to join Ski Our Canyons Responsibly and said he wants the group to be focused on supporting environmentalism alongside commerce.

In late November, a bill was introduced in Congress called the Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act which would allow Talisker to construct the lift linking the two resorts on Federal land. The United States Forest Service testified in front of Congress against the project. The fate of the project is still undecided and a proposed construction date has not been set.

County stabilizes budget

After realizing they had been deficit spending since 2008, the Summit County Council quickly began brainstorming ways to bring the county’s General Fund out of the red. In 2010, the County Council borrowed $2 million from their $12.2 million Tax Stability Fund, the equivalent of a savings account, and a year later asked voters to approve the transfer so they would not be forced to repay it and compound the county’s money woes. Summit County Manager Bob Jasper blamed the sudden downturn in the economy for the overspending and said the county cut more than 40 employees and brought its spending under control.

In November, over 60 percent of voters approved the $2 million transfer, allowing the county to begin planning their 2012 budget with a clean slate.

Despite the transfer, the County Council voted to eliminate three additional county staff positions and raise the tax rate for Municipal Taxes and Service Area #6 Taxes.

Municipal Taxes pay for road maintenance and a homeowner with a home valued at $500,000 will pay an additional $24 a year. The Municipal Tax rate has not been changed since 1977 when the fund was first created.

Service Area #6 Taxes are paid by most neighborhoods in the Snyderville Basin and cover neighborhood road maintenance. The average homeowner will see a $24 a year increase in their tax rate.

The county is estimating the additional tax revenue will bring in little less than $100,000 a year.