SOC Email: On Alta Land Exchanges, Grizzly Gulch, & CWNCRA

Dear Members & Staff of the Central Wasatch Commission:

Over the past several years we’ve been engaged with many of you and have attempted to find resolution to the many issues in the Central Wasatch Mountains. Through this process, we (Save Our Canyons and the community) have worked to grapple with some of the very complex issues in the Wasatch. We have worked to not be so ideological, rather, practical as look toward solutions for the Wasatch Mountains. We have great discomfort with some of the direction and the changes being proposed, but seek to remain a partner to put decades of spats to rest. We full well acknowledge there are many interests and complex systems at play. This effort has earned the trust of our organization and our members.
While we live with some discomfort in the actions we’ve been party to, the one outstanding issue of Alta Ski Area’s continual reconfiguring of land exchanges and the removal of Grizzly Gulch presents a major stumbling block for us. To illustrate this point, the past couple days we’ve been communicating with our members and the community about these issues. I’ve attached a pledge that people have taken to show what they value and what they are saying (for the sake of privacy we have not published that form on our website, but it was included in this email). Next to stopping SkiLink, One Wasatch or other attempts at interconnecting resorts, protecting Grizzly Gulch is perhaps one of the single most unifying efforts amongst our members.
No Grizzly, No Land Exchange –
Save Our Canyons has supported land exchanges with some consternation. Our support for land exchanges was based on a few simple criteria.
1. If the private lands being exchanged to public ownership could be protected, then an exchange is good. We did not want to be in a position where lands traded to the USFS could then have infrastructure placed on them through some proposal.
2. Whatever jurisdiction was receiving the lands, needed to have a good ordinance following the spirit of the accord to regulate development. For example, we worked with ski resorts and Salt Lake County to write a new land use ordinance, the Mountain Resort Zone, for the private lands INSIDE USFS ski area permit area polygons.
3. Ski Area boundaries should be fixed with no opportunity for expansion onto any additional public lands in effort to reduce vulnerabilities to our watershed and maintain the amazing juxtaposition of world class resorts and unparalleled dispersed recreational opportunities within a compressed landscape. We seek to conclude this chapter in the book of the Wasatch with a period, not with a question mark.
Our concern is that with the proposed Alta exchange it will be difficult, if not impossible to protect the lands they are exchanging within their USFS permit boundary. Alta also proposes to exchange lands they own that lay inside Solitude’s resort boundary. One needs to look no further than the latest scuffle with Alta’s tram to the top of Mt. Baldy to see why we get concerned with USFS “protecting” lands inside a resort boundary. In a meeting a number of months back with Commissioner McCandless and Mike Maughan I directly asked that if, for instance, Alta conveyed the top of Baldy to the USFS,  would it be protected? Maughan stated even if they exchanged the land, there would still be a tram to the top. Of course, the land they would receive at the base of the resort would also enjoy development. So the exchange facilitates 2x the development at a net loss to protection. We cannot support a proposal that will facilitate to the detriment of dispersed access, our view shed, watershed and numerous other conservation values.
Alta Skiers revolt-
One of the more interesting findings of our pledge is that due to Alta Ski Area’s actions people have already stopped supporting the resort. Should this exchange go forward without protecting Grizzly Gulch, more people have pledged to follow in their tracks (more tracks in the backcountry and other resorts that is). If Save Our Canyons supporters were pledging to stop supporting our organization because of something we were driving, we’d correct course immediately. As a matter of fact with this letter we are… We will not support a bill that fails to protect all exchanged lands as is being done in other areas; we cannot support the consolidation of lands that are today public anywhere in the vicinity of Grizzly Gulch; we cannot let the fate of this favorite corner of the Wasatch left unanswered; we cannot because your constituents will not accept Alta’s direction (we’re accountable to the same public, generally, Alta is only accountable to one majority owner on their board).
Alta Ski Area management continually says they seek to protect the Alta experience. What they don’t realize, but their patrons do, is that the recreational opportunities in Grizzly Gulch are a crucial part of the Alta experience, part of the character of the place. It’s a place where people can carelessly chase snowflakes, as Vladimir Nabokov once obsessively chased butterflies with Alta’s founder James Laughlin. An interesting allegory of that story is that a man died due to the passionate pursuit of wildness and nature in that story. We believe the mystique and culture of Alta will suffer the fate of the miner should a lift cut the heart from the Wasatch – it’s a moral tale of relevance to the issues at hand.
More delay only favors Alta to the detriment of the Wasatch, other resorts and the public-
Delay is a tactic. This is not a secret. I have a suspicion that Alta has told members of the CWC as much (I’d rather not file the GRAMA to corroborate this suspicion). Why should this community and the Wasatch be held hostage by one person’s (Alta majority owner) myopia? This tactic is damaging to the partnerships that are need to continue to build as we all strive to resolve environmental, transportation and community issues in the Wasatch. Alta Ski Area has made it clear it does not wish to work in harmony to realize a shared vision for the Wasatch.  We respect Alta’s private ground, but reject that we should do any reconfiguration of public lands within or around those lands in effort aid Alta in realizing its desires which couldn’t be more out of touch with the community’s vision for and values of the Wasatch.
Our Request-
I realize this is a lot of information and that you continue to try and figure out a direction that represents a compromise. We seek to be a partner toward that respectable goal. Based on conversations with partners, members, the community and in consult with my board of directors we can only support a land exchange that:
1. Includes only lands outside of Alta’s and Solitude’s ski area boundaries
2. If it includes land from inside ski area boundaries, explain how you, the CWC, would propose protecting those lands so that we are not enabling twice (or more) the development that would be allowed today,
3. Should there be a land exchange, lands that go from public (USFS) to private, should be far, far away from Grizzly Gulch and not aid Alta ski area’s expressed intent to expand into that area.
4. Town of Alta begin working on what a base area zone might look like for the base area to help  the public understand what types of uses might happen on the base land that Alta might receive. A starting point might be the Mountain Resort Zone.
Central Wasatch Land Exchange sans Grizzly Gulch land
Another acceptable option would be to not include Alta in any land exchanges as in the absence of Grizzly Gulch, there is really no public benefit in a land exchange. We are very concerned about consolidating land ownership at the base of the resort, and was only ever agreed to because it met the 3 criteria we at the beginning of this letter. With Grizzly off the table, we see no reason to concede public lands in the valuable base areas for development that is inconsistent with the public and our organizations vision and values for the Wasatch.
I apologize for the length of this, but I’ve attempted to explain how we and others we have been working with see the world, these issues are hopelessly complex. Land use changes by jurisdiction and there are many different jurisdictions that are at play here in this small but important area of the Wasatch: Salt Lake County ordinances, Utah County ordinances, Salt Lake City watershed, Town of Alta, USFS Ski area lands, USFS Public Lands, avalanche protection areas, State highways, etc. These jurisdictions are all intertwined and work with and against one another. When we propose modifications (which we are supportive of) we must look at all the potential outcomes of actions (which is why we are so concerned about this particular exchange).
I’m here as a resource should you ever have any questions. I sincerely hope you’ll read the attached comments and hope that they will inform your decision at your retreat this weekend.
For the Wasatch and our community,