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The Mountain Accord’s Birth Certificate

The mother had been pregnant for longer than it seemed. The father had big plans for the child that was about to come. On January 10, 2015 a baby was born to a very excited family. Was it a boy? Was it a girl? No, it was a transportation program.

A reader sent through an anonymous tip entitled, Attached is the Birth Certificate for Mountain Accord. Make no mistake – it is a transportation program. It included a Federal Register notice Headlined by “Notice of Scoping Meetings on Regional Planning Effort To Improve Public Transportation in the Central Wasatch Mountains in Salt Lake and Summit Counties, UT.” The Federal Register is the Federal Government’s Newspaper and includes notices of potential federal government proposals and rule changes so that the public can participate in the process.

In this case, the notice is very interesting for people concerned with the Mountain Accord. It begins with a summary:

“The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) issue this early scoping notice to advise other agencies and the public that they intend to explore potential alternatives for improving public transportation service to and within the central Wasatch Mountains of Salt Lake County and Summit County, Utah. UTA is conducting this work through formal agreement and partnership with numerous state and local agencies, including Salt Lake County, Summit County, Wasatch Front Regional Council, Salt Lake City, Cottonwood Heights, Sandy City, Park City, Town of Alta, and others. This early scoping process is part of a regional planning effort to examine regional connectivity for the central Wasatch Mountains. ”

It continues, somewhat damningly, “The purpose of the project is to improve regional transportation connectivity and to facilitate safe, convenient, and reliable year-round transportation to destinations within the central Wasatch Mountains from the population bases, recreational destinations, and the regional transit networks in the Salt Lake Valley and Park City/Summit County.

It’s fairly hard to argue with our tipster when the document says the purpose is to improve transportation connectivity. It’s even harder when it starts talking about year-round transportation and regional transportation networks.

That said, the notice does mention watersheds, land use planing, forests, wilderness, and air quality. The problem with these statements, though, is that they are clearly secondary to the transportation elements. For instance it says, “This notice invites the public to help frame transportation improvements, while considering the inherent interdependence of watershed protection, wilderness protection, land use planning, and economic opportunities in the central Wasatch Mountains.” What it is saying is that they want to make transportation improvements but as part of that, environmental concerns shouldn’t be ignored. I take that as them saying, let’s not cut down an entire forest to build a road. It’s not that we need to protect the watersheds, so in order to do that we need to address transportation. There is a clear distinction there.

Later in the notice it says the need for the project arises from (in order):

  • The need to meet the growing connectivity needs of the central Wasatch Mountains for the region’s workers and recreationalists by increasing mobility, access and transportation capacity to and from activity centers in the region.
  • The need to serve increasing worker and recreational trips between Salt Lake City environs and Wasatch Mountain locations in Salt Lake and Summit Counties.
  • The need to support source water protection goals.
  • The need to support land use and forest management plan goals.
  • The need to improve air quality in the Salt Lake City Valley to maintain Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards.
  • The need to improve road safety conditions in the central Wasatch Mountains

Those who would argue the Mountain Accord is about the environment would point to the later bullet points and say, “see it is about the environment.” So, I’m not going to deny that either there is some intention to improve some environmental aspects of the Wasatch or that the environmental clauses were added to placate certain groups that could derail the Mountain Accord process. Either one of those options seem plausible.

Yet, when we take the entire notice as a whole, the environment seems a distant third to transportation. The notice says proposed transportation corridors and routes are based on the Wasatch Front Regional Council Transportation Plan. I took a quick look at that proposal and it seems to deal very little with the environment. It also references the Utah Unified Transportation Plan. As you might expect that is entirely a transportation plan devoid of “environmental protections for the Wasatch.”

So, where does that leave me. More than ever this notice convinces me that the Mountain Accord is foremost a transportation plan designed to get more people into the Wasatch, increase tourism, and drive revenue for the state.

That said, I COULD BE CONVINCED that Mountain Accord is really an environmental plan with some transportation components. How would they do that? Here are some ideas:

  • Tell me specifically what will be done to protect the watershed in the Wasatch. Don’t give me flowery language that says, “we will endeavor to work with parties to preserve the watershed.” If they have picked the train company to go up Little Cottonwood (which they allegedly have with Stadler), they can create a 100 page, deeply documented, resource that will explain EXACLTY what will be done. It needs to be highly technical enough so that a panel of university professors would say, “yes, that makes sense, will probably work, and the outcome will be X.”
  • They need to do the same for the protection of wildlife and forest land.
  • They need drop the tunnel or prove how that benefits the environment.
  • They would close Little Cottonwood Canyon to car traffic, like Zions. They would start by using busses to transport people up the canyon. That has to be the most environmental thing they could do. Then, if for some reason after 5-10 years they find rail would make better sense for some reason and Uncle Orrin wants to convince someone to give UTA billions for rail, then fine. At least we started with the more responsible decision and worked our way into bankruptcy  a bigger solution.

I don’t expect that to happen, though. Why? Because I don’t think the impetus behind this plan was ever the environment. Just alter the Mountain Accord Blueprint to take away that rail from Little Cottonwood Canyon, leave the environmental aspects, and see how fast this thing falls apart. I could be wrong about that but the more I read, the more the logical conclusion points in that direction.

Here is the notice addressed in the article





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