Tribune editorial: Mountain Accord won’t make it at a glacial pace

(Michael McFall | The Salt Lake Tribune) Wildflowers in Albion Basin at the top of Little Cottonwood Canyon.

The Mountain Accord has lost some accord.

After five years and millions of dollars of work to establish a viable future for the mountains east of east of Salt Lake Valley, the unprecedented effort hasn’t reached its summit.

The key component is getting a bill through Congress intended to cap ski resort growth and address decades-old disputes over public and private property rights. It has never gotten to the point of satisfying everyone, but Mountain Accord has gone further than any previous effort to bring together the resorts, the backcountry skiers, property owners and Salt Lake City’s watershed managers.

Still, a current bill hasn’t even been introduced, and the fragile coalition is getting anxious.

Now Alta Ski Resort wants to go its own way. After first showing a willingness to trade its land in Grizzly Gulch to the Forest Service, resort management now says it wants to hang on to the land so it may one day put a ski lift there. That would cost backcountry skiers the experience of hiking the ridgeline to be rewarded with less tracked slopes.

A bill is still possible without Grizzly Gulch. In addition to trades, the legislation would create a national conservation and recreation area stretching from Utah County to Millcreek Canyon. It provides a framework for keeping the area wild and pristine despite a million people at its feet.

The original bill was introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz before he quit. Rep. Mia Love took the lead after that, although an updated version of the legislation has never been introduced.

Politics being what it is, the bill probably won’t be filed before the November election. While the legislation is viewed as non-partisan, one of Mountain Accord’s early champions, Salt Lake County Ben McAdams, is now the Democrat running against Republican Love. Awkward.

Mountain Accord wasn’t just about a bill in Congress, and its successor, the Central Wasatch Commission, still has plenty on its plate, including working with the Utah Department of Transportation to solve gridlock in the two Cottonwood canyons.

But federal legislation is the big prize, and time is not an ally. The longer it takes, the harder it is to keep everyone on board. Let 2019 be the year of the Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area.