Solitude-Canyons SkiLink advances in Congress

Published March 1, 2012 8:22 am

Gondola • Bishop fends off Dems as Becker, Corroon call for local input.
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Washington • Skiers moved a step closer to riding a gondola from Solitude to Canyons on Wednesday after a U.S. House committee advanced a measure that would force the Forest Service to allow the new connection.

The House Natural Resources Committee voted 20-18 along party lines to send the Wasatch Range Recreation Access Enhancement Act to the House floor as Republicans fought off an attempt by Democrats to overhaul the bill.

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., attempted to strike much of the language by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, in favor of wording suggested by Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker that would slow down the effort pushed by Canadian-owned Talisker Mountain Inc., which owns Canyons Ski Resort near Park City.

Bishop's bill would require that the Forest Service sell the land needed for a gondola if it passed environmental muster. Becker's proposal would allow the land to be used, not sold, for a connection and only if local officials signed off as well.

Bishop balked at the idea.

"This amendment would gut [the bill] and place the fate of the SkiLink project entirely in the hands of the Forest Service," Bishop said. "The legislation already requires the conveyance to be subject to [National Environmental Policy Act] and all other applicable laws, but ensures that the resorts will be able to actually build this project at some point."

Grijalva's spokesman, Adam Sarvana, said the Arizona congressman doesn't necessarily oppose SkiLink. He wants to ensure environmental protections are in place and that this legislation doesn't set a precedent for one company.

"The bottom line for him is not making exceptions or granting exemptions for major developments on public land," Sarvana said, noting that a locally driven process is already in place. "It would be a shame if a Canadian corporation is able to bypass U.S. environmental laws because its plans align with the anti-environmental agenda of the Republican majority."

The congressman's amendment failed 19-16.

The legislation, which is also backed by Utah's other Republican members of Congress, orders the Forest Service, after an environmental analysis, to sell 30 acres in Big Cottonwood Canyon to Talisker, making the land private so the company could build the eight-passenger gondola.

Mike Goar, managing director of Canyons, praised Wednesday's vote.

"Passage of SkiLink legislation would put Utah on the world stage of top ski destinations and that means more Utah jobs and a stronger local economy," Goar said. "Constructive dialogue can only help make SkiLink stronger as the bill moves forward in the legislative process."

Becker and Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon said they were disappointed and hoped that the bill could be halted on the floor.

"The federal process is premature," Corroon said. "It needs to start with the local community, not with the feds mandating what happens with land in Utah. Government closest to the people governs best. Locals need to be involved."

tburr@sltrib.com