Dear Central Wasatch Commission:
The following, I hope, will help you understand a little of the where SOC is at and perhaps more importantly the why. It is help inform conversations and perhaps assumptions going forward. I’m including a few partners in hopes the can use this info to inform their thinking. I’ll start with a brief history surrounding the issues in Grizzly Gulch which was proposed and decided by the USFS. I then discuss a bit about concerns that have come up as it pertains to SOC engagement (or anticipated engagement) in the transportation EIS, with some context of how, where and why we thought that process even began.
Grizzly Gulch Context-
Ski Lift Connections and Possible Use of Alta Private Land
Alta continues to believe in connecting like-minded ski areas and communities with ski lifts and ski terrain. This concept is independent of what governments pursue relative to mountain transportation. Alta will focus on connections that enhance recreation, provide emergency evacuation from Highway 210, and that create options for travel other than by highway. Possible connections lie within an area from the City of Heber through Solitude Ski Resort.
Lift bottom terminal and 3-5 towers at the Albion Base for a lift up Grizzly Gulch – To help us remain competitive and possibly be part of a resort interconnection, Alta continues to study the feasibility of putting a lift into Grizzly Gulch, and building the supporting winter and summer trails. To function well the lift would best originate near the Albion-Sunnyside Base area in Alta’s Special Use boundary with a base terminal and 3-5 towers before it continues on to private property to the ridge. (P8)
Based on our review of your proposal for projects located outside of your existing permit boundary, I have concluded that they likely would not be consistent with several of the screening criteria. Therefore, the Forest Service would be unlikely to consider a future proposal for authorizations of those elements of your MDP submittal. Though your MDP does not provide details, these elements appear to include two lifts that would probably require a lower terminal on NFS within your permit and then extend across NFS land outside your permit boundary, and then continue some distance upslope onto private land. Likewise, the Forest Service would be unlikely to consider a formal proposal to expand overnight lodging on NFS lands.
If you decide to submit a formal proposal for these lifts, you will need to provide specific information including a map showing the complete lift alignments and where skiers would egress the area and return to the Albion base area. In addition, you should provide a narrative explaining why NFS land is needed and why the use cannot be accommodated on private land. The narrative should also discuss how skier traffic flow and grooming would be managed adjacent to the Grizzly Gulch subdivision and in providing access for skiers across Hwy. 210.
Alta Ski area has attempted these expansions in the past and they have been denied. I think that the community has been more than willing to try and find outcomes and many stakeholders have been more than patient in exploring options to find resolution to difficult issues. Some of these options even depart from provisions that this community has worked hard to secure through exhaustive planning processes, continually, for decades. We believe the USFS’s letter is an accurate representation of the status quo, especially as it pertains to Grizzly Gulch.
SOC Transportation Background-
We have ardently supported the current policy of controlling visitation and capacity to the Wasatch through a prohibition on additional parking. We certainly see both a benefit and role of providing mass transportation in the canyon, but do worry about the impact of departing from a system that could allow two or three times the number of visitors into our canyons. Make no mistake, every document and plan done in the past several decades acknowledges that the greatest impact to our water, land, plants and wildlife is human use and visitation. This impact, of course, is not malicious, rather it is an unintentional manifestation of our collective love of this place. Our concern, which is based on trends of the past, is that more people will bring the need for more accommodations, which perpetuates the development of more infrastructure, which comes at the expense of the wildness and beauty of the Wasatch. These were the qualities our organization, 46 years ago, organized to help defend, full-well knowing that we and our desire to venture into these places were part of the problem. Of course we also formed in response to a more corporate ski area model coming to the region and our fear of the induction of use that it was going to bring. As history has demonstrated, this induced demand has been the leading driver of development and infrastructure in our canyons (from needing more lanes, to amenities, to cell towers, parking, etc), which takes away from the wildness and beauty of the Wasatch, which our organization formed to protect.
For the first-time, or at least for the first-time in a longtime, our community was prepared to set aside our zealous jurisdictional binders and have a conversation on the challenges of this place we defined as the Central Wasatch. We thought it to be a healthy mix of natural resource based jurisdictional problem solving; an arduous, but if successful, sublime feat for the benefit of our community. I use the word “community” in the sense that Aldo Leopold used it, which considers land, water and other species to be inclusive, not exclusive, of humans. What more, is that this process seemed to aid in stepping outside of our ideological thinking, at least it did for many people in our organization, where we were guided by ideology, but not bound by it. This allowed new ideals to form, evolve and adapt to the changes that are, and undoubtedly will continue to happen. For us, this process was never about legislation, the economy, transportation, or even recreation – those were certainly potential outcomes, but they weren’t in our minds the driver. The driver was reconciliation of community values and vision (again, community in the Leopoldian sense). It was also a need to cope with the changes that already had, and undoubtedly will continue to challenge these values and vision. Transportation, legislation, resort boundary modification, conservation, reconfiguration of land ownership patterns, regulation, recreation and the Central Wasatch Commission, are tools to achieve a desired future condition, but were not the purpose of convening – at least for us.
(It is worth stating that many interests wants/needs can be delivered administratively -Development proposals, transportation improvements, trail projects, land exchanges, etc. Protective measures onthe other hand, can seldom be realized in any form that provides certainty, without an act of congress. There’s an imbalance in the realization of development vs protection, or perhaps, a higher degree of certainty to protect something rather than develop something is required by our processes. Oftentimes, once something is developed it is developed and anything undeveloped appears to be awaiting its moment to have something put upon it. It is for that reason we’ve sought legislation for a higher level of protection. Our preference has been Wilderness, but I think we’ve shown ourselves not to be ideological in that regard, rather flexible, perhaps too flexible for some.)
This is an important preamble because if transportation was the purpose, as the process is often misrepresented by some, the outcome would be I-80, or worse, I-15. There’s not a doubt in my mind that if you were to construct an road with the capacity of I-80, in time you’d still be staring that red snake in the eyes. This is the epitome of kicking the can down the road. Some might think that without connecting our canyons with lifts or tunnels that the problems will never be solved. Other’s think that climate change might solve the avalanche and visitation problems far before we attain the financial resource to connect the canyons. If either of those perspectives drive the process our canyons lose. This is not to say those perspectives shouldn’t be considered, tempered with information, community values, and evaluated in the face of challenges we see coming and in anticipation of our most educated guess of the one’s that are too far off to make out.
SOC Engagement and Commitment-
We will continue to collaboratively engage in transportation processes in earnest good faith, as we think we have done and will support outcomes that reflect the community vision and values of the Wasatch. We can only support a process that will reciprocate the good faith efforts of our community. We also must, as articulated in the Accord, have certainty that the impacts of increased visitation brought by more efficient transportation are mitigated by the consensus legislation as well as working toward implementation of the other actions of the Accord.
I think many would agree that the UDOT EIS has been refreshing from the engagement standpoint, they’ve done an incredible job to date in creating a conversation on this issue. The process is too young still and we’ve not seen how they are responding to the issues that or ideas that have been brought to light through as they’ve only conducted the scoping portion of the EIS. The next several months and years will be enlightening, nevertheless we will work to be a partner and collaborator.
I applaud your efforts, as we know through experience none of this is easy stuff! I hope we’ve not only stated, but demonstrated to you that we seek to be a productive partner even when the going gets tough. If I have done something specifically to make you, or any partner for that matter, question our engagement and good faith collaboration, kindly allow me the opportunity to address the issue. If nothing specific, I hope this can help to silence the unwarranted paranoia. We have been willing to step outside our comfort zone and current policy and law that govern the area today in the spirit of compromise, for the benefit of our community and a sustainable Wasatch. We’ve been nothing but steadfast toward that end, I expect we will continue.
I realize this is all quite long, but I felt it important to provide some context and rationale for where we are.