Editorial: Wasatch ‘blueprint’ shows value of compromise

First Published      Last Updated Feb 06 2015 05:59 pm

‘Blueprint’ deserves serious look.

The broad consortium that came together for Mountain Accord is showing as much care for an open planning process as it is for the future of the Central Wasatch Mountains. In our age of political paralysis, that is no small accomplishment.

Mountain Accord's latest step is the release this week of its "blueprint" for the picturesque range that forms the eastern boundary of the Salt Lake Valley and provides millions of people with clean water and unmatched recreation.

Taking input from politicians, water managers, ski resort executives, foresters, backcountry skiers, real estate developers and, of course, planners, the group has produced a document that addresses all the key stresses. Now Utahns have their chance to respond in a series of meetings this month or by going to MountainAccord.com.

So strong are the pressures of population growth that the planners say the mountain range has to accept a certain amount of new infrastructure and development just to survive. Leaving things as they are will continue to produce an unworkable gridlock and endanger our water supply.

The most ambitious, and likely the most contentious, parts of the plan come in two areas: land trades and tunnels.

The land trades are the possible deals in which private landowners would give up some pristine acres to the Wasatch-Cache National Forest in exchange for less pristine areas next to ski resort base facilities. The gain for environmentalists is further protection for those pristine spots. The gain for the landowners is the chance for further development where there has been little chance before. Such trades have been discussed for years without much movement.

The tunnels are part of a proposed transit network that would connect the Wasatch Front with the Wasatch Back, meaning the Park City area. The network would include much needed mass transit — trains or bus rapid transit — in Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons. Mountain Accord's blueprint takes that a step further, and it's a big step, to include a mass-transit path through the mountains to Park City, including a tunnel from Alta to Brighton and another tunnel or gondola from Brighton to Park City. Unlike the "One Wasatch" idea to connect ski resorts, this transit system could move everyone, including commuters who live on one side of the mountains and work on the other.

The blueprint does not attach a dollar figure to the tunnel/gondola plan, but it likely would be a whopper, even if existing mine tunnels can be used for part of it. The blueprint makes clear that this is not an immediate need, and that's good. Right now there isn't the demand to justify it.

After absorbing the public comments, the group has to begin the heavy lifting, including environmental studies, real estate negotiations and legislation. This plan is far from a certainty, but the process that has driven it is a shining example.