Last night the Summit County Council, like the Park City City Council before them, approved an agreement that keeps our community in the Mountain Accord process for the next three years. The decision will likely prove to be very courageous, very stupid, or perhaps both. No matter the outcome, one thing is clear, our governments have signed themselves up for the responsibility of ensuring a positive outcome for the people of the greater Park City area.
During last night’s meeting, council members Chris Robinson, Claudia McMullin, and Kim Carson voted in favor of signing onto a Mountain Accord interlocal agreement that will continue the study (and likely begin implementation) of plans to help mitigate transportation issues and environmental impact related to recreation and tourism in the central Wasatch. This will cost Summit county $150,000 in hard costs over three years. When accounting for soft costs, such as time from legal, planning, engineering, sustainability, and council personnel, that number probably doubles or triples.
The reasoning behind the “yes-votes” can be summed up as:
- We need to stay at the Mountain Accord table in order to have a say in what goes on.
- Staying in the Accord allows us to learn about alternatives that may be useful in the next 30 years.
- By working with partners across the region we form better relationships in order to solve mutual problems that may or may not be part of the Mountain Accord.
- Our own transportation needs are going to be so costly, that we don’t want to upset those people who have the money to pay for it — Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT).
I’ve been a fairly harsh critic of the Mountain Accord, but the logic Ms. Carson, Ms. Mc Mullin, and Mr. Robinson provided is sound. Mountain Accord showed people just what it is willing to do when it attempted to include a land swap in Utah county, when Utah County wasn’t even involved in the Mountain Accord. By having a part in the Accord, we get to watch the project like a hawk. While the “learning” and “friendship” arguments seem a little soft to me, the argument over needing funding from UDOT isn’t. Summit County effectively
wasted spent over a $100,000 on a transportation study that said “use buses.” What do we think a solution to transportation on 224 and 248 is going to cost over the next 20 years? I have no idea, but lets say at least of tens of millions of dollars (Maybe a $100 million? Maybe more?). We don’t have that type of money. Who does? UDOT. When you’re hungry it’s not wise to spit in the face of man who has the loaf of bread.
Yet, the opposing views of Council Members Dave Ure and Roger Armstrong are solid too. They can be summarized as:
- Mountain Accord takes away focus from our other issues and just confuses us.
- The wrong organization (UTA) is managing the process, if the Mountain Accord is really about the environment.
- $150,000 could better be spent on solving our own problems.
- The studies that will be implemented from Mountain Accord will likely make development happen faster.
- Wasatch front issues will be the focus of the Accord.
When you look at the two opposing viewpoints one really represents HOPE that we can all work together to solve problems and that our (hopefully) benevolent benefactor (UDOT) will kindly look down on us in a god-like-fashion and shower us with a solution to our car-mageddon problems. The other viewpoint is the FEAR that we will lose control of a process that will ultimately waste money and more importantly impact our community’s quality of life.
So which is the stronger in the battle of HOPE versus FEAR? As they say, the outcome is all in the execution. Our leaders have chosen the path of engagement. Given that path, we as a community should expect the following things:
- There will be no tunnel between Big Cottonwood Canyon and Park City planned or conceived of in the next 10 to 20 years. If in 20 years, things change, then great. The people will have to decide at that point. But for the foreseeable future, there can be no tunnel.
- A detailed transportation plan that encompasses I-80 and Highways 224, 40, and 248 with practical, but out of the box solutions, will be developed in conjunction with us. If we get another plan that says increase busing, and adds three more daily runs to the Park City SLC Connect bus schedule, it will be a failure.
- Tens to hundreds of millions of dollars should be invested by the Utah Department of Transportation, during the next 10 years, with the goal of easing traffic problems around Park City
- Water quality and levels in Salt Lake City must be preserved at today’s levels indefinitely. If I recall, one of initial environmental issues in the Accord was the watershed serving Salt Lake. This always seemed like little impact in the short term to Park City, but we do care about the entire Wasatch and California has shown us that water troubles in one spot, impact everyone. Therefore, we need to measurable improvements in water coming from the Wasatch to Salt Lake.
- Nothing should be put in place that inhibits wildlife crossing freely into Summit County. One of environmental arguments of Mountain Accord was that it would ensure that wildlife could move freely across the boundaries of Salt Lake and Summit Counties. While this may seem minor, it is one of the few environmental impacts that seem to directly impact Summit County.
I’m sure there are a plethora of other “promises” that have been made that different interest groups desire, from protecting back country skiing to reducing pollution and I’ll be glad to add those to the list if people let me know.
The point is that our leaders have chosen to go along for the ride because they think it will make things better. This is courageous. Sticking your neck on the line is hard. Yet, that’s what they’ve signed up to do. So, we as citizens need to hold them to fighting for the above items every day. Every Mountain Accord Executive Committee meeting that one of our representatives attends should be focused on ensuring our interests are protected. Every planning document created by the Accord process needs to show that the other Accord participants are still willing to help us solve our problems (while we help them solve theirs).
If at the end of three years we look at the situation and it looks promising, we owe a debt of gratitude to the people who took on this task and managed it to fruition.
However, if we look back and don’t see measurable learning, broad based relationships, transportation solutions for our area, earmarked dollars for Summit County, and concrete environmental-saving impacts, this whole affair and those who pushed it will seem pretty foolish.
Worse yet, if a tunnel to Park City starts to be dug, as many people still fear it will be, then WE’LL ALL look pretty stupid. Yet even more, we all know who took on the burden of protecting our interests, and therefore, who let it happen.