A Necessary but Challenging “Mountain Accord”
By Carl Fisher, Executive Director
Earlier this month after nearly 2 years of convening a diverse group of stakeholders and at least three name changes, the Mountain Accord went public. In its infancy, Mountain Accord was known as “Becker’s Grand Plan.” Then on Nov. 3, 2012, a meeting was convened by the Governor’s Office and Wasatch Solutions was born. That group continued to meet growing a coalition of interests. Shortly thereafter, Wasatch Summit was convened and the coalition organized into boards and committees. Regardless of the name we rally around, the significance of the effort is what deserves our attention. It takes true leadership to convene such a robust crew and in a time when ideological and political differences have shut down our government; the leadership of our Governor, legislators, mayors, forest supervisors, transportation bosses, business leaders all operating under a consensus based decision making framework now called Mountain Accord. They have even invited the likes of Save Our Canyons (environment and recreation), Ski Utah (ski areas), the Outdoor Industry Association (recreation and economics) and the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce (economic) to join as voting members of the group and participate in decision making.
The difference between the Mountain Accord and projects like Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow or land use master plans, is that Mountain Accord is a decision making framework. Not a study. Not an advisory document. Mountain Accord has hired a very capable Project Manager, Laynee Jones to publicly represent and ensure the process is driving forward. Too, there is an equally capable and talented consulting team filled with experts to inform and shepherd the stakeholders towards a plan of action. The Project Manager and consulting team will also make sure that we meet all the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) which is the framework under which the “preferred alternative” will not only be created, but also evaluated in Phase II (projected Spring 2015).
Many of Save Our Canyons members and readers are familiar with NEPA processes. Generally, plans are developed, proposed to the respective federal agency, and once accepted, run through NEPA to analyze the environmental impacts and develop alternatives that generally include a “No Action” alternative and and “Environmentally Preferred” alternative, other alternatives might also be developed. For the most part, this is how the Mountain Accord will operate, most of which will be in Phase II. What is unique is that the developed plan is going to be developed with the federal agencies (US Forest Service and Federal Transit Administration currently) and the all encompassing group of stakeholders, inclusive of the public.
Over the course of the next 12 months (the remainder of Phase I), members of Mountain Accord will participate in four different system groups. The systems: Economy, Environment, Recreation, and Transportation. Each system group will have a chair that will report on the progress of each system group. There will be about seven decision making milestones in the process and about 2/3rds of the way through each system group will have produced a map or plan of what project or projects achieve the highest potential for their respective system. We then spend the last bit of the project reconciling the various maps to come up with a concept or concepts to run through NEPA.
Does this group agree on everything? Certainly not. But we agree that we need to work together towards implementation of a plan that protects the Wasatch Mountains.
The challenges as we work over the course of the next year are going to be significant. One of the most concerning challenges from my perspective is that while we are participating proactively in the Mountain Accord, we will be forced to simultaneously stand our ground and fend off the many projects that threaten the wildness and beauty of the Wasatch. For instance, in the coming weeks/months we are bound face a new proposal for a ski interconnect to connect all seven Wasatch ski areas. Too, UDOT is studying opening roads that are traditionally closed in the wintertime (ie. Guardsman Pass, Big Mountain Pass, and 6 others) and provide irreplaceable winter recreation opportunities. Opening would certainly promote additional and unwanted development in the Wasatch. These are just a few of the things that we will need to respond to while the Mountain Accord is plugging along.
Another challenge is that as we were participating in the data gathering element of the Mountain Accord, we were reminded that the this area has no information that helps land managers and other decision makers understand how many people are recreating in the study area. As such Save Our Canyons is spearheading an effort in partnership with the US Forest Service and Salt Lake City to collect this data over the next year. As we plan for our future we need to make certain that all data is provided to the Mountain Accord because, for example, if we don’t know who we need to serve and where they are going it will be hard to develop transportation plans.
As we work on behalf of our community in the Mountain Accord, we hope that you too will participate. The public open houses had a great turn out and generated a good number of comments. Thanks to those who were able to make it. If you weren’t able to attend, you can still make comments to the Mountain Accord until March 7th on the website (http://mountainaccord.com/Get_Involved.php). You can view a virtual presentation of the open houses (http://mountainaccord.com/onLineMeeting.php) with maps and informative slides.
Be part of the decisions that will certainly shape our future. Feel free to give us a call at the office if you have questions or to float ideas as to how best we can secure an environmentally sound future for our forests, watersheds, alpine peaks and millions of annual visits. If you are part of another group or have a class that you think would be interested in this project, please get in touch with us. We would be happy to give a presentation and invite some of the other interests to join.
For years, decades really, Save Our Canyons has been advocating for a plan to protect our Wasatch Range. We’ve gotten what we asked for, now we need to make certain that we do all we can to engage our community to proactively participate and share ideas. Thousands said during the SkiLink campaign that they wanted their voice heard on the future of the Wasatch, so we went on a mission to make that happen. Here it is – don’t let this opportunity pass by!