Ralph Becker: Reaching for the best of the Wasatch Mountains

Ralph Becker: Reaching for the best of the Wasatch Mountains

Ralph Becker: Reaching for the best of the Wasatch Mountains

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Former Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker offers his take on Reps. Jason Chaffetz, Chris Stewart and Mia Love’s bill to create The Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area. Read the original article here.

“On July 11, one year after a Mountain Accord Charter Agreement was signed, Utah congressional Reps. Jason Chaffetz, Chris Stewart and Mia Love introduced legislation (HR5718) to solve thorny issues and solidify protection of the Wasatch Mountains.

The charter and legislation were locally developed and agreed upon by every major interest in the Wasatch Mountains: local governments from Salt Lake and Summit counties, Utah state officials, federal agencies, ski areas and environmental organizations. The bill would create a new federal lands designation — the Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area; authorize land exchanges between the U.S. Forest Service and the four ski resorts — cleaning up troublesome patchwork land ownership in the canyons; clarify trail and transportation corridors for future improvements; enhance watershed and natural resource protection; and set aside land in wilderness and other protective categories to ensure that the remarkable recreational opportunities and watershed conditions of today will exist for future generations.

The Mountain Accord is rare in today’s fractious political environment. It reflects what good governance can achieve: public officials, residents, businesses and civic interests looking out for their respective interests while working together in good faith to find common ground.

Three years ago all of these stakeholders in the Wasatch Mountains did just that; we came together, shared information and perspectives and reached an agreement to work together to find common ground. Different interests struggled through major disagreements, but we respected each other’s views and needs, and stuck to the common objective. Time after time, when it appeared progress toward the agreement had stopped, we managed to keep talking and finding a path forward. In the end, everyone agreed that protection of this unique treasure, the Wasatch Mountains, required compromise from all sides without sacrificing the principles or values we all hold dear.

A tipping point occurred in 2014, when the parties participated in a two-day retreat to determine whether we could reach the framework of an agreement. The retreat was attended by local government leaders, state officials, federal agency administrators, environmental groups, representatives of the Central Wasatch Mountains ski resorts, and staff of the Utah Congressional delegation.

Skilled, independent consultants, led by Laynee Jones, facilitated the discussions. Ideas were introduced and trampled. Feelings were hurt. There was even some screaming. People walked out and huddled, then returned to the table. At the end of those two intense and creative days, a framework agreement emerged. It would take almost a year of public involvement and hammering out details before all the parties signed the charter Agreement, on July 13, 2015.

The agreement called for congressional action and pursuit of the next public processes to arrive at transit solutions in the Wasatch Mountains. And it was yet another year before agreement was reached on the specific provisions of a congressional bill.

At every step, people had to defer to the common good while protecting their interests. Is each party entirely happy? Certainly not. Nor is everyone feeling fully secure in the final outcome. But the big win in this effort is that the parties have agreed to take some risk for themselves and their interests for the betterment of the Wasatch Mountains and all they bring to our region.

From the beginning of the Mountain Accord process there has been criticism and skepticism, justifiably. Some criticism continues today. And while the introduction of HR5718 is only another step toward final resolution, it shows it is possible for our congressional delegation to move beyond partisanship and paralysis and to support the consensus-based efforts of a broad range of local stakeholders. Of course, even if the legislation passes, there are hurdles that remain. The transportation bottlenecks in the canyons must be addressed.

The Accord concluded that transit is key to a final solution. It rules out aerial systems and expansions of roadways and parking, and calls for solutions to traffic congestion in Summit County and Park City. Studies and discussions are underway that will help shape such solutions, and how they will be financed. In addition, while the congressional legislation authorizes land exchanges and a protective lands designation, the U.S. Forest Service now must complete an environmental impact statement and a new management plan.

At this juncture, it is more important than ever for stakeholders to continue building on the past four years of working together, through thick and thin. A final consensus agreement will not only demonstrate that good governance can happen in Utah; it also will help us achieve our common goal of protecting the Central Wasatch Mountains.”

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