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Pushing back against opponent Jackie Biskupski, Mayor Ralph Becker announced Monday the endorsement of the 7,000-member Utah chapter of the Sierra Club along with a passel of other environmentalists.
At a news conference along Parleys Creek in Sugar House Park, Becker said it was he, not his opponent, who had a proven track record in environmental protections, most notably the Wasatch Mountains.
The Sierra Club's nine-member executive board gave seven votes to Becker and none to Biskupski. Two members abstained, said Mark Clemens, the manager of the Utah chapter.
"His environmental record is exemplary," Clemens said.
Last week, Biskupski contended that the mayor had oversold the Mountain Accord an agreement among local governments, environmentalists, ski resorts and others as a major milestone. But she said she remained concerned because the stakeholders have yet to reach difficult decisions on conservation strategies in the canyons of the Central Wasatch most notably transportation.
Becker lashed back at the former state legislator, saying that the agreement among various interests was unprecedented.
"If there is one thing Mountain Accord represents, it's people working together for two years," he said, noting that efforts of collaboration were a hallmark of his administration.
A general plan with a large number of options will now undergo an Environmental Impact Statement process by the U.S. Forest Service and federal Highway Administration. When it is complete, the state and various local governments will make decisions on land use and watershed protections.
Becker claimed that Biskupski is squarely against the Mountain Accord and, further, he said if she is elected mayor, the plan and its potential environmental protections would unravel.
"If I am elected, we will pursue it and it will be accomplished," he said. "If my opponent wins, the agreement will fall apart."
Later Monday afternoon, Biskupski called Becker's statement a misrepresentation and said he was using fear as a political tactic.
"Mayor Becker would have us believe that Mountain Accord is his crowning achievement. He is highly critical of anyone sharing concerns, and he paints my critiques as anti-watershed and anti-conservation. Nothing could be further from the truth," she said. "I have no intention of dismantling the Mountain Accord. But to approach these plans without the appropriate amount of caution would be a failure of leadership."
Becker also responded to Biskupski's challenge that he did not support the Redrock Wilderness Act, which seeks to protect about 9.2 million acres in southern Utah. The legislation, drafted 25 years ago, has never come to a vote in Congress.
The mayor said he does favor wilderness protection but has not supported that specific legislation because it leaves little room for negotiation, which he said is critical when attempting to forge environmental regulations.
Also endorsing Becker was Peter Metcalf of Black Diamond, an outdoor-recreation equipment and clothing company. Metcalf applauded the mayor's initiatives on clean air, watershed protection and open-space preservation.
"These mountains and their stewardship are integral to our quality of life and economic vibrancy," Metcalf said. "Ralph Becker plays an integral part in Mountain Accord."
Others endorsing Becker include noted environmentalist Carl Fisher, Tom Diegel of Wasatch Backcountry Alliance, and Nathan Rafferty of Ski Utah.