Op-ed: Speak now on Mountain Accord

Published on April 25, 2015 in the Salt Lake Tribune

By Peter Corroon and Skip Silloway

Friends of Alta is a 34-year-old land trust whose mission is to protect the environment and character of Alta, including watershed and wildlife habitat (visit friendsofalta.org).

The Mountain Accord is a major process under way to plan for how the Central Wasatch Mountains, including Alta, will be managed into the future. These mountains are critical to our future because they supply more than 60 percent of our drinking water. Our organization is continually concerned at how few of the Salt Lake Valley residents are aware of this process. We encourage everyone to become familiar with Mountain Accord (mountainaccord.com) and become involved.

The Mountain Accord has brought together representatives of all interested parties; environmental and conservationists, ski resorts, transit experts, the U.S. Forest Service, county and city governments among others. The process represents the first time that all of these interested parties have sat at the table at the same time with a similar goal in mind — to plan for the future of the Central Wasatch in the face of population growth. This unprecedented effort has provided an opportunity for permanent settlements and agreements to be made that will preclude piecemeal assaults on the great canyons of the Wasatch.

The Wasatch Canyons Tomorrow (a public process done by Salt Lake County from 2009-2010) report states that most Salt Lake County residents agree that limiting land development is the best management approach for ensuring environmental and watershed health. The enabling documents of the Mountain Accord speak to environmental conservation as well as the preservation of community character. Mountain Accord is not intended as a development endeavor but, inevitably, some of the solutions to perceived problems will encourage development. How to accomplish everyone’s goals is not yet spelled out and compromises will have to be made. The options are many and include some kind of federal designation that will permanently protect the area from development pressure and overuse. Ski area boundaries may be permanently established. A possible land swap between private landowners (ski areas) and the Forest Service is being discussed. Hiking trails may be developed, connected, repaired and provisions made for maintenance. Increased use of the canyons suggests transit improvements and parking as well as discouraging the use of motor vehicles in the canyons. All of these options must be woven together and implemented to preserve what we now have, namely, a functioning watershed and open space.

At present, the Mountain Accord leaders have presented a proposed “blueprint,” which will try to speak to the many opportunities and concerns. The current public comment period, ending May 1, has elicited too few comments and, if more comments from the general public are not received, only the “squeaky wheel gets the oil.” We ask that you be part of the “squeak.” The watershed and environment that is the Wasatch must be conserved for the future. In many ways the Wasatch is a small mountain range when compared to, say, the European Alps. Access from the Salt Lake Valley is almost immediate and development can quickly overrun the beauty and the watershed we all treasure. With all the parties at the table, Mountain Accord may be the last chance to create and implement a permanent management plan. If you are concerned about watershed, recreation and open space, get involved. It is not too late. We believe that the proposed “blueprint” can and will be altered but only if we all speak up. Remember, once an open space is gone, it is gone forever.

Peter Corroon, former mayor of Salt Lake County, and Skip Silloway are members of the board of Friends of Alta, a not-for-profit Utah corporation.