Provo City Council calls on county to preserve Bridal Veil Falls

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bridal Veil Falls, Monday, Nov. 23, 2020.

In a unanimous vote Tuesday evening, the Provo City Council approved a resolution asking the Utah County Commission to place Bridal Veil Falls under a conservation easement.

Commissioner Nathan Ivie came forward with plans to preserve the falls under such an easement on Nov. 18, and Commissioner Tanner Ainge has also expressed support for the idea. Commissioner Bill Lee, however, has been working on a plan with developer Richard Losee to build a high-end drug treatment center at the top of the falls, with tram access, which would be available to the public for part of the year. The lower part of the falls would remain county property.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Chairman George Handley said that the council has no say in what happens to the county-owned falls, but that the city still has a stake in the landmark’s future. Provo is the closest municipality to Bridal Veil Falls and owns adjoining land, including the Provo River Parkway trail.

“We felt it was necessary for us to express a united voice of support for the conservation easement,” Handley said. “We think privatizing [the falls] and thereby limiting public access, potentially causing disruptions to the natural ... and the aesthetic value it has in our community, we were concerned enough that we wanted to issue a resolution and also write a letter to the county commission to let them know our feelings about this.”

In an earlier work session, Mayor Michelle Kaufusi declined to add her name to the resolution, but agreed to sign the letter supporting preservation. The mayor said she will present the letter to the commission during a public hearing about the conservation easement scheduled next week, at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 9.

“Reading the letter so it is made public, I think that carries a lot more of a punch than just emailing or signing a resolution,” Kaufusi said.

The tram and treatment center idea does not appear to have broad public support. Council members noted they have received numerous emails and comments encouraging conservation of Bridal Veil but none backing Losee’s plans.

“Even thought the public is just beginning to find out about the possibility of this being sold to a private developer, we’re already getting many expressions of support for preservation,” said council member Dave Sewell.

Still, advocates of keeping the iconic landmark public worry that the commission will have enough votes next year to approve Losee’s development. Incoming commissioner Tom Sakievich will replace Ivie in January, and Losee was one of Sakievich’s top campaign donors.

Lee, who has been discussing the falls with Losee and the developer’s architect since late 2018, previously told The Salt Lake Tribune that he’s receptive to the tram because it will enhance a tourist attraction in the county without taxpayer expense. The falls once had a tram with a restaurant at the top, but the structures were dismantled after sustaining avalanche and fire damage.

Council members, however, said the Provo Canyon waterfall held more value in its natural state, especially with year-round public access.

“I’m really excited about this [conservation easement] and that the county could, in perpetuity, preserve a special place for all of Utah County,” said council member Shannon Ellsworth.