The U.S. Department of Agriculture, along with Salt Lake City, is opposed to legislation in Congress to sell 30 acres of public forest land to Talisker Co., a Canadian ski-resort corporation, for a gondola linking Solitude in Big Cottonwood Canyon with The Canyons Resort, which Talisker owns.
U.S. forest managers, under the Agriculture Department, rightly argue that the resort expansion would result in damage to protected areas and Salt Lake City's watershed and create a private land island in the middle of a national forest. We hope other members of Congress are listening, because the Utah Republican congressional delegation is trying to sell them a bill of goods.
Promoted disingenuously as "a transportation alternative," the SkiLink project is, quite simply, an expansion of The Canyons Resort into Big Cottonwood Canyon. Any resort expansion in the sensitive watershed of the central Wasatch has been consistently opposed by the Forest Service, Salt Lake City and the residents of Salt Lake Valley.
But Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz and Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee want Congress to ignore the wishes and needs of local government and the public and make an end run around the normal processes in place to protect the environment and water resources, ignoring the years already invested in long-range planning for the area.
In arguing for the sale of public land for ski resort expansion, The Canyons and Talisker have tossed about statistics about jobs and economic impact. They have been less forthcoming, however, about where they get those numbers.
A chart on the SkiLink website provides as the source Robert Charles Lesser & Co., which is a real estate development consultant commissioned by Talisker. On its website, RCLC explains its mission as: "We strive to add value to our clients' real estate activities and provide ways for them to gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace."
That hardly strikes us as "independent economic research," as Salt Lake County Councilman Michael H. Jensen and Canyons Resort Managing Director Mike Goar described it in their testimony before the U.S. House.
In fact, it stretches the imagination to picture thousands of skiers at The Canyons, one of the largest ski resorts in the country and within a quick bus ride of Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley, spending an hour on lifts to end up at Solitude, a relatively small resort, popular with the locals.
A more likely scenario would be thousands of additional skiers driving up Big Cottonwood Canyon to ride over the mountain to The Canyons, exactly what Talisker wants.