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Op-ed: Mountain Accord’s agenda is to get taxpayers to fund tourism industry

First Published      Last Updated Feb 17 2016 04:02 pm

The citizens of Utah, particularly the young, are witnessing a play worthy of Shakespeare and Sophocles. The play? The Mountain Accord. The actors? The paid consultants who are looking for their next paid gig at the trough of the taxpayer.

Anyone who uses the incredible Central Wasatch (American Fork Canyon, North Side, to Parleys Canyon, and from Wasatch Boulevard to Wasatch County, approximately 405 square miles) understands the treasure we have inherited from our predecessors, be they Native Americans or pioneers.

Fortunately for those of us living in 2015, our predecessors were prescient in their ability to plan for the future. They were not motivated solely by financial gain. Instead, particularly for the pioneers, they understood there was an inherent moral obligation for "justice between generations." That is, they needed to selflessly plan for a future they would not experience, but which, if they and their family were lucky, future generations would inherit.




Whether it is the beauty of Liberty Park or the tranquility of City Creek Canyon, Brigham Young, as just one of several examples, Mormon or Gentile, sought to preserve the valley and its environs they settled in a sustainable way. This pioneer legacy is today threatened by individuals and organizations who with a straight face will argue their financial interest and our future legacy issues are convergent. Put another way, what is good for the marketplace (read GM) is good for the ordinary citizen.

It simply is not true. The Mountain Accord purports to propose a plan for the Central Wasatch for the next 35 years to the year 2050. The play that is being foisted on the unsuspecting public is for certain financial interest, both public and private, to create a transportation system which will facilitate our tourism business.

Would it be easier to attract out-of-town guests to our mountain resorts with a cog rail system going up Little Cottonwood Canyon and connecting by a tunnel from Alta/Snowbird to Brighton and then on to Park City? Absolutely. But, as with any proposal for the future, who would benefit, and who would lose, or bear the cost burden? You, the taxpayer, would lose.

First, you would be obligated to pay through your taxes the $3 billion to $5 billion dollar cost for the rail/tunnel system. Second, as the Central Wasatch provides more than 60 percent of the culinary water for Utah and Salt Lake counties, you would run the risk that the present planned and reliable water distribution system would be disrupted, if not destroyed.

What is Mountain Accord's hidden plan? Sen. Orrin Hatch. First, a disclosure. I ran against Hatch in 1994 on the bus theory. He had to be hit by a bus (which I didn't wish) before I would be elected. In 2015 Hatch is the most powerful U.S. senator Utah has ever had. He is extremely wily in his ability to exchange votes with the White House for projects which he believes will benefit Utah. He frequently does this behind the scenes of the Potomac Village façade. As an example, he met with the Department of Interior for at least three weeks before the announcement by President Clinton in 1996 to create the Grand Staircase National Monument to negotiate what he believed were appropriate grazing regulations for the new national monument.

In the instance of the Mountain Accord, many of their promoters believe Hatch can carry the legislative day by having a congressional act that will authorize and finance the entire Mountain Accord, train, tunnel and all.

So why, this op-ed? I still have this Utah belief (born in part from a wonderful education in Utah Public Schools, Sherman and Dilworth Elementary, Hillside Junior and Highland High school, including Collette, Nagle and Rush) that an individual can make a difference. The idea at the center of the Mountain Accord – planning for the future – makes great sense. But we as citizens need to make sure that the short-term financial interest of a few don't destroy the future for many.

You need to get involved. Make sure your voices are heard to protect the watershed that supplies your drinking water. Don't be deceived by the developers or the transportation bureaucrats who will make a short-term gain and a long term, irreparable harm to our Wasatch Mountains.

The future is something we, if lucky, can help plan for our children and grandchildren. It is a sacred obligation.

Patrick A. Shea is a Salt Lake City attorney and a former director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

 

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