Op-ed: Don’t let Mountain Accord opportunity pass without speaking up

First Published      Last Updated Mar 14 2015 03:00 pm

There are times when citizens are asked to speak on a subject and together define a course for their community. The Mountain Accord process is one such opportunity because it invites us all to decide the future of the shared terrain that brings us our water, our recreation, our spiritual peace, our history, our jobs, and our visitors.

The word democracy comes from the Greek demos meaning "people" and kratos meaning "rule." Today in the Wasatch, just that combination of popular input and valid governance is crucial to a sustainable model for the alpine landscape that defines us. I urge Tribune readers to participate in the Mountain Accord process by visiting the website at mountainaccord.com/get-involved.

The Mountain Accord aims to balance many forces: public lands and private rights; enjoying the landscape and maintaining it; places to ski and water to drink. We can find that balance if we cultivate achievable suggestions for a healthy economic and environmental future. A community-based plan, with all its compromises and shortcomings, is preferable to the ramshackle bitterness of lawsuits and surprise developments that characterize the present mountain discord. The Mountain Accord process has been inclusive, with representative from the ski industry, environmental groups, local and county governments, citizens groups, and businesses. The "blueprint" that has emerged promises some satisfying resolutions in the Wasatch, but it wants the validation of our community's full participation.

Different perspective and interests wrestle in any healthy city. From ancient Greece to State Street, our ethics take their meaning from the way they shape each individual's relation to the community. The comment period is, in this sense, an ethical occasion to speak your piece about the Mountain Accord's strengths and weaknesses.

For me, what's strongest here is the potential for land-swaps that add base areas and boundary expansion to the ski resorts, while preserving more than 2,000 acres of the Cottonwood Canyons.

Likewise, what seems weakest to me is the multi-billion dollar plan to run a train up Little Cottonwood alongside the road, creating years of construction delays and enormous environmental impact when a fleet of fancy buses could better do the work. In these views, I'm guided by what Aldo Leopold said of nature's bounty: "a resource which can shrink but not grow." That's as true of the Wasatch now as it was of Leopold's Sand County then. What do you think?

It's not often a people seizes the opportunity for a grand bargain that empowers the future. The Wasatch front is responding to the combined pressures of population-growth, climate change, the outdoor industry, and public lands. The Mountain Accord is a generational opportunity because it offers us a viable path, a plan we can count on and chart our future from. The stability of a firm plan enables other successes: businesses depend on projections; marriages propose security; healthy towns budget for schools and plows based on a firm sense of boundaries and populations.

Use your voice to do the same for our mountains. When Utahns establish clear parameters for development and preservation in the Wasatch, we do the very best for both the people and the places we love.

Jeffrey Mathes McCarthy is director of the Environmental Humanities graduate program at the University of Utah.