Split Salt Lake County Council votes to condemn gondola plan with new resolution

The County Council voted 5-4 to approve a resolution condemning the plan to build a gondola through Little Cottonwood Canyon.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake County council votes 5-4 to approve a resolution to formally condemn the Little Cottonwood Canyon gondola during a council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 4, 2022. Pictured from left are council members Aimee Winder Newton, David Alvord, Richard Snelgrove and Steve DeBry. The resolution which passed asks UDOT to withdraw the gondola as an option and promote alternatives.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson has been vocal against a potential gondola through Little Cottonwood Canyon. Now the Salt Lake County Council has voiced its opinion as well.

During a work session Tuesday afternoon, the County Council voted 5-4 to approve a resolution condemning the plan to build a gondola through Little Cottonwood Canyon. The council is slated to ratify the vote during the council meeting Tuesday afternoon.

Council members Laurie Stringham, Richard Snelgrove, Jim Bradley, Arlyn Bradshaw and Ann Granato voted in favor of the resolution. Council members David Alford, Aimee Winder Newton, Steve DeBry and Dea Theodore voted against it.

The Utah Department of Transportation released its final draft of its environmental impact study in August, which concluded the gondola would be the best solution to solve the 8-mile-long canyon’s transportation woes.

The council’s resolution called for the gondola option to be “eliminated from consideration” from Utah Department of Transportation’s record of decision, due to be finalized sometime this winter.

Dozens of people packed a committee room Tuesday, with several speaking during the public comment period in favor of passing the anti-gondola resolution.

Bradley, who introduced the resolution with Granato, said the council received a letter from five Sandy City Council members asking for the County Council to strike down the measure, which surprised him.

“I find that absolutely astonishing and perplexing why a public official for Sandy would take a position like that, on clearly ... an initiative that would that affect their community, probably more so than most,” Bradley said. He asked his fellow council members to pass the resolution.

Though DeBry said voted against the measure, he told the work session that it doesn’t mean he is a proponent for the gondola. He said he didn’t have enough information to vote either way, and added if there was a resolution in favor of the gondola, he would vote no on that too.

“I don’t think all the data is in yet,” DeBry told the council. “I think there’s more discussion to be had, and I think we need to have a more global discussion after UDOT gathers all of their information, and has their public hearings on the issue.”

The most apparent proponent for the gondola was Alford, saying Tuesday that he believes, “I think the good outweighs the bad for the gondola on environmental issues.”

In a statement she prepared before the meeting, Theodore called the resolution, “premature, strange and political.” She added that the resolution would not eliminate the gondola as a possibility for the canyon, as the resolution would merely be a suggestion to UDOT to abandon the gondola route.

“I’ll be voting no on this resolution. It is not because I endorse or discount (the) gondola, and according to (UDOT’s) process, it cannot be eliminated,” Theodore said. “I believe UDOT should fulfill their duty and finish their work without political messaging.”

Following the resolution’s passage, Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons, a conservation group, told The Salt Lake Tribune the passage was encouraging but said the close vote was disconcerting. He added the EIS process should be repeated, saying he believes UDOT is “going through the motions and not really listening to the public.”

Wilson said after the meeting she was also pleased with the vote, adding she thinks, “the majority of our council, by passing this resolution, understands the complexity of this issue, the cost, and the long-term impact on our canyon.”

The county’s resolution also pushed for “common-sense solutions,” including “parking management technologies and policies, multi-passenger vehicle incentives, traction device requirements and regionally placed mobility hubs.”

UDOT’s pick of the gondola over expanded bus routes took four years and caused a significant backlash throughout the county. Elected officials like Wilson calling on residents to oppose the gondola and voice their concerns to UDOT during their public comment period.

The August EIS estimated the gondola would cost around $550 million. The final say on the gondola would be up to the Legislature, which would authorize funds to carry out the gondola’s construction.

Members of the public are able to submit their comments to UDOT through Oct. 17. Comments can be left by going to littlecottonwoodeis.udot.utah.gov.

This is a breaking news story that will be updated.