Utah Olympic group urged to avoid ski interconnect issue
Utah's ski industry would like to have a resort interconnect system in place by the time Salt Lake City stages another Olympics, but one member of the committee exploring another Games bid urged the group Thursday to steer clear of that controversial issue.
Spencer Eccles Jr., executive director of the Governor's Office of Economic Development, said the resurgent idea of linking the seven resorts in Salt Lake and Summit counties was important to the state, but peripheral to the Olympic Exploratory Committee's mission.
Its goal, he reminded the committee assembled by Gov. Gary Herbert and Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, was limited to looking at whether a bid for the 2022 or 2026 Winter Games made financial and logistical sense and had public support.
Eccles' father, Spence, was a leading executive of Salt Lake City's previous Olympic bid committee, which recognized early in its late 1980s campaign for public support that the only way to avoid resistance from conservationists was to keep Olympic events out of the Cottonwood canyons.
The younger Eccles suggested that dodging controversy would be wise now, when community opinion seems to be sharply divided over the concept of interconnecting the resorts, perhaps beginning with a SkiLink gondola from Canyons Resort outside of Park City to Solitude Mountain Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
The discussion arose as Exploratory Committee members briefed the group on the responses to the bid idea from various interested parties from the congressional delegation and local athletes to transportation officials and 2002 volunteers.
Most reports showed enthusiastic backing.
Committee member Jenni Smith, president and general manager of Park City Mountain Resort, said the ski industry was "very supportive, very excited" about a new bid.
Its leaders just hoped that, next time around, an interconnect system would exist and more effort would be put into telling out-of-staters that Utah is still open for skiing during the Olympics, she said. Skier visits in the winter of 2001-02 fell 9 percent from the previous year.
"If we could have [the interconnect] done by the Olympic Games," she said, "that would be the perfect scenario."
But Olympic backing of the interconnect also would be certain to inspire opposition from conservationists. At this point, they find the notion of a bid generally palatable, said Helen Langan, a senior adviser to Becker, whose committee assignment was to gauge environmental reactions.
Langan said conservationists were relatively satisfied their positions were respected in 2002 Olympic preparations and like the sustainability component inherent in Utah's reuse of existing facilities. But, she added, they remain concerned about ongoing transportation and environmental issues and wanted their voices heard.
The Exploratory Committee's recommendation to Herbert and Becker probably will be delayed until early July.
Being two months behind the original schedule should not prose a problem, said Lt. Gov. Greg Bell, a committee co-chairman. A revenue dispute between the International and U.S. Olympic committees has not been resolved. Until it is, he said, the USOC will not nominate any American cities as candidates.
The Olympic Exploratory Committee will meet again May 17 at noon in the state Capitol.
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