Protect vital watershed
Published: April 28, 2012 01:01AM
A coalition of Utah developers, lobbyists and politicians is pushing SkiLink, the proposed gondola that would ferry skiers over the ridge that separates The Canyons resort in Summit County on the Wasatch Back from Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon on the Wasatch Front. They envision the gondola as the first link in a daisy chain of new lifts that would tie all seven resorts of Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons to each other and the Wasatch Back. But this is not a vision whose time has come. Rather, it is a vision whose time has come and gone.
Resort owners have dreamed for decades of an “interconnect,” as it was traditionally called. It would, they said, create a world-class ski complex like nothing else in North America, bringing tens of millions of dollars of new economic development to the Beehive State. The SkiLink pushers are making the same argument today, led by Talisker, the Canadian outfit that owns The Canyons.
But such a megaresort inevitably would open tens of thousands of acres high in the Wasatch Mountains to commercial skiing and resort development, and that construction and human traffic would just as inevitably foul the water supply on which half of Salt Lake Valley’s population relies.
As the valley’s population continues to grow at some of the fastest rates in the nation, every drop of that water becomes more precious. Protecting it must be this community’s first priority. That job becomes even more critical as global climate change causes the Wasatch winter snowpack to shrink.
The coalition that met the other day at the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce to trumpet SkiLink didn’t spin the project that way. Its members said that SkiLink and the other lifts that would follow would only be built if that could be done with a net improvement to the environment.
But by emphasizing $50 million in more business to the state each year and by minimizing the threat that construction and development in the high Wasatch would pose to the watershed, it’s clear as a mountain stream where this coalition wants things to go.
It wants SkiLink built, and it wants similar interconnect lifts built thereafter. The talk about local hearings and broad-based environmental input rings hollow.
Already, Utah’s congressional delegation, with the exception of Jim Matheson, is pushing a bill to force the U.S. Forest Service to sell 30 acres of public land to SkiLink. The Forest Service rightly opposes the project on environmental grounds, as do the governments of Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County.
The opponents have the right vision of the future.
Read more: Salt Lake Tribune editorial No to SkiLink