We might not ever know what single thing lead to the lack of political appetite to ram the SkiLink project through the halls of Congress (be it forever or temporarily), but whatever it was that lead the editors of the Salt Lake Tribune to declare “SkiLink dead,” well, we’ll take it! While we had been hearing that the project was dead for a number of weeks we had been waiting to hear from the new managers of the Canyons resort (Vail) to give the official declaration of the time of death on the Wasatch Range Recreation Enhancement Act (aka SkiLink). We still fully intend to get that closure.
So what was it? The optimist in me (which for those of you who know me is a tiny ant-sized being in my 160 lb stature) says our elected officials in true democratic fashion listened to the roars of their constituents, had to reconcile the mile after mile of “Stop SkiLink” signs on district visits, and realized this project was not good for the Wasatch. The pessimist (who that tiny ant is constantly pestering) says, the changes in ownership at the Canyons resort compounded with a poisonous political climate lead to a minor setback in the inevitable reintroduction of this ill-conceived interconnect. However, the director of the organization Save Our Canyons, in me (often one of my favorite parts of me), says issues are complex and not so black and white, there were a number of things that dealt the blow to SkiLink, some in our control, others out. Here is what I think lead to the Monday, July 15, 2013 news:
First and foremost, the Community!
Yes, the people, the businesses, the organizations, the energy and organizing around this issue were all superb – we need to build up on it. Over the course of this issue which first reared its head in October of 2011 Save Our Canyons effectively more than tripled its organizational reach. Every sign, phone call, editorial, email, forum, news article, social media post, and so on did exactly what it was supposed to do. We did our best to disseminate info – but you effectively stopped this from happening.
A few stats on Community impact:
- distributed over 2,500 signs across the Wasatch Front and Back.
- garnered opposition to the project from nearly 200 businesses
- recruited over 6,000 signatures on-line and another 1,500 hand written
- the Stop SkiLink page on Facebook grew to nearly 3,000 “likes”
- had over 50 letters to the editor published in opposition to the project
- Save Our Canyons participated in over 20 forums and panels surrounding the issue
SkiLink came about through a skeezy back room deal, shepherded by Federal Legislation that completely cut the people and other governmental entities completely out of the project. Period. From the onset, when approached by former Canyons resort employee, Ted Wilson, he stated they wanted to work on solving transportation issues in the canyons and wanted to be open, transparent and wanted no surprises. A statement which effectively held true for a handful of weeks only to be blindsided by the introduction of legislation into both chambers of the United States Congress by a partisan faction of the Utah Delegation.
Many cried foul on lack of process. Long story short, ask and ye shall receive! It has recently begun and you’re invited to participate: the Wasatch Summit (www.wasatchsummit.org). Please make sure to engage in this effort after all, you’re the reason it exists. The creation of this comprehensive multi-jurisdictional regional planning effort was cited by Rep. Jason Chaffetz as the reason his office lost interest in SkiLink. We are happy to hear that our elected officials agree that our Wasatch Mountains and issues affecting them are worthy of public discourse.
Earlier this year we caught wind that Rep. Chaffetz was toying with the idea of reintroducing SkiLink. Immediately, we sent out blasts that filled his Facebook page with posts, his office with phone calls and his inbox with emails. A flood of immediate response sent a significant message to his office. This was only one instance of persistence of hundreds throughout the duration of this campaign.
Other factors, to name a few:
- Vail taking over management of the Canyons
- The Talisker / Park City Mountain Resort Lawsuit
- Rep. Bishop’s Eastern Utah Land deal aka. The Grand Bargain
- Other interconnect projects trying to get off the ground that SkiLink has complicated
- No other ski resort endorsements other than Canyons and Solitude (see prior point)
- Opposition from the Utah Ski and Snowboard Manufacturers Association
Rep. Jason Chaffetz: “There is this more-comprehensive approach to transportation in our canyons…It’s probably best to let that play itself out.” (referencing the Wasatch Summit effort)
Melissa Subbotin (Press Secretary for Rep. Rob Bishop): “To say that everyone’s completely backed away from it isn’t a fair representation. We just have a couple of other legislative priorities that are on our list right today.”
Mayor Ben McAdams: “I’m optimistic, because any solutions for the canyons should be locally driven and take a comprehensive view.”
We may have prematurely done an autopsy on SkiLink, as we are still seeing a little brain activity on our monitors (though, no more than it generally showed throughout its life). While it seems a lack of political will at the moment has postponed the project, the concept is not “dead,” so what we will cite on our official coroners report is “Failure to thrive.”
Save Our Canyons will continue to engage our elected leaders, project proponents and industry leaders to keep you up to date on this and other related issues. What we are now working on in addition to the Wasatch Summit effort is to continue working to protect these areas of the Wasatch, via designating Wasatch Wilderness, to prevent any future iterations of these types of projects from plaguing our public lands.