Cooler Heads – Public land debates take good turn

Cooler heads
Public land debates take good turn

Good news this week from both Washington and Salt Lake City about public officials, and private landowners, who are wisely taking a step back from confrontational approaches to matters involving the stewardship of public lands in Utah.

First came word that Utah’s congressional delegation has shelved, at least for the time being, a bill that would have commanded the U.S. Forest Service to sell 30 acres in Big Cottonwood Canyon for the construction of the controversial SkiLink gondola project.

Then we learned that the special session of the Utah Legislature that is to convene today will be asked to repeal a fight-picking law, passed only four months ago, that purported to ban federal officers from enforcing state laws on federal property, such as land overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management or the Forest Service.

Advocates of each idea were heard to say that there are larger plans afoot and that their concerns would be better addressed by being part of a multi-player planning process than by short-circuiting those processes with legislative edicts.

Good for them.

The project that would have built an eight-person gondola to carry skiers over the mountain crest that separates the Canyons ski resort near Park City from the Solitude resort in Big Cottonwood was the vision of Talisker, the multinational corporation that owns Canyons, and is opposed by city and county officials. But the rationale for the project — that it would reduce the number of cars making the circular trip from Park City to Big Cottonwood on state highways — was extremely dubious.

Also, Talisker recently assigned management of Canyons to Vail Resorts, a company whose managers say they are reviewing the whole SkiLink idea and have not yet decided if they will pursue it.

So a bill that would have directed the Forest Service to sell land for SkiLink has been allowed to die, as members of Utah’s congressional delegation agree to await results of the city’s and county’s ongoing reviews.

Meanwhile, HB155, the new law that would have told federal lawmen to take a hike rather than enforce state laws on federal land, was quickly, and correctly, set aside by a federal judge. That action apparently moved the law’s primary sponsor, Republican Rep. Mike Noel of Kanab, to seek a do-over. And led Gov. Gary Herbert to put the proposed repeal on the call of today’s special session.

In both cases, advocates for some unwise actions have stepped back from the cliff. And that’s good news all around.

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