Laurie Stringham: Canyons planning process needs to hear from you

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren takes a walking tour with Carl Fisher, executive director of UtahÕs Save Our Canyons organizationat Storm Mountain Picnic Area in Big Cottonwood Canyon, April 17, 2019 before speaking to Utah supporters Wednesday evening. Sen. Warren is a Democratic 2020 presidential candidate.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of sitting on numerous boards and committees, including the 2002 Winter Olympics, the Utah Association of Special Districts, the Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center, the Utah Recreation and Parks Association, and the National Recreation and Parks Association.

If I have learned anything from this service, it is the critical importance of grassroots efforts, local control and local decisions. However, there are rare occasions when federal procedures can improve the local decision-making process.

In Salt Lake and Summit counties, it is time to apply the federal process known as NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act) to determine the solution to our mountain transportation woes. Although the Utah Department of Transportation is managing the project, UDOT must follow the very disciplined NEPA process, due to the fact it is using federal dollars.

Local leaders and participants will now get to proudly present to UDOT their years of effort as reflected in their plans, reports, studies and recommendations. These efforts are the product of countless volunteer hours and millions of taxpayer dollars spent to identify a solution to the problem of increased congestion and reduced mobility on our Wasatch canyon roads. These studies and reports include:

• 2010: Respected environmentalist Ted Wilson endorsed the SkiLink proposal.

2012: Then-Senate President Wayne Niederhauser presented and the Legislature passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 10 (SCR-10).

• 2012: Then-Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon’s Mountain Transportation Study.

• 2012: Citizen proposal to connect the canyons, the counties and the ski resorts via an aerial gondola.

• 2015: The Mountain Accord proposal included a train up the canyon and also a tunnel through the mountain.

• 2016: Mountain Accord Transportation Study.

• 2020: Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson proposed a “third lane” up Little Cottonwood Canyon.

• 2020: Wayne Niederhauser (CW Management Corp.) proposes a gondola system up Little Cottonwood Canyon.

• 2020: Members of the public propose parking structures at Kimball Junction with an aerial connection to the resorts and canyons.

So after years of study, debate and even some lobbying, it is time for UDOT, a neutral third party, bound by the NEPA process, to make the decision on the best transportation alternative that reduces congestion and increases mobility on canyon roads.

Not only does NEPA outline the disciplined analysis to be used by UDOT, but it also requires “all reasonable alternatives” that meet the “purpose and need” of the project be thoroughly evaluated. This is tremendously important because it prevents powerful stakeholders and others from manipulating the process in an effort to keep certain alternatives out of the analysis.

Without NEPA, some might cry foul. For example, some might allege the watershed will be ignored. I assure you, if NEPA is followed, the effects on our watershed will be analyzed and appropriate protective measures will be applied. Adherence to NEPA will ensure the federal Clean Water Act is followed.

Others might allege their plan is not or will not be heard. Again, I assure you, if you have presented a “reasonable alternative” that meets the “purpose and need,” the NEPA process says it must be analyzed. Even “no action” is considered a “reasonable alternative” that must be analyzed.

Unfortunately, It appears some hope to limit the alternatives, thereby limiting the scope of the analysis to Little Cottonwood Canyon and a couple of resorts. I assure you, that does not comply with NEPA. Remember, if there are “reasonable alternatives” that meet the stated “purpose and need” of reducing congestion and increasing mobility on canyon roads, UDOT must analyze those alternatives or it is UDOT that will be in violation of the federal statute it is obligated to follow.

I understand this can be an anxious time and the level of trust might be low, but now is the time to bring to the table all “reasonable alternatives” that meet the “purpose and need.” Remember, NEPA ensures a fair and objective analysis. Let all “reasonable alternatives”, along with their accompanying data and science, stand on their own merits and not be artificially sidelined by political bias.

The residents, visitors and taxpayers of Salt Lake County, Summit County and across Utah, deserve a complete, thoughtful and final solution to the mountain transportation problems that have plagued our Wasatch canyons for decades.

Laurie Stringham

Laurie Stringham, Kearns, is a candidate for an at-large seat on the Salt Lake County Council.