Open Letter to Governor of Utah-Gary Herbert, Mayor Ben McAdams- chair of Mountain Accord and Dave Whittekiend, Supervisor of the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, all participants in the Mountain Accord process, and all Utah County Commissioners and elected officials.
Dear Governor Herbert, Mayor Ben McAdams, Dave Whittekiend and other participating parties,
Less than a month ago, I learned of some issues surrounding proposed land swaps in American Fork, Utah County. Further research shows that the majority of Utah County elected officials were really in the dark about a proposed 416 acre land swap in American Fork Canyon, at a potentially high cost to tax payers.
No Utah County elected officials had been invited to participate in any executive roles during the Mountain Accord process. Specifically problematic is that Mountain Accord has a tri-county geographic jurisdiction- Utah County was excluded from the onset of the Mountain Accord process, but somehow at some point in time, Utah County public lands were placed on the negotiation table without representation from Utah County.
Our Facebook group “Protect and Preserve American Fork Canyon“ was created to bring this discussion into the open, what has happened since has been eye opening. The group is growing at about 1,000 concerned citizens per week, elected officials are coming out in support of our open call to democracy, we have hosted the first public meeting in Utah County with Snowbird in which concerns of engaged citizens were readily evident and aired. The entire meeting can be viewed here. https://youtu.be/0BVHLlVkNdQ
Our FB group can be found here. https://www.facebook.com/ProtectAmericanForkCanyon
Many members of our newly founded group [4,246 citizens at the time of this writing] are very concerned about a Mountain Accord vote that is coming up mid-July which involves Utah County lands without representation from Utah County. These land were at some point in time slipped into the negotiations as part of the multi-year Mountain Accord process. We view this as problematic. The rest of the Mountain Accord process, we have no issue with. The inclusion of Utah County lands without Utah County representation, we take issue with. We ask for the democratic process to now begin in Utah County which was excluded from participation. Please read on.
The BIG concern- is a ‘key’ small piece of land.
There is a “small land swap” [3 parcels that combined are approx. 416 acres] … We see these land swaps as triggers for much higher costs to Utah County tax payers for infrastructure, sewer, roads, etc. up American Fork Canyon which could be in the tens of millions of dollars?
Historically Snowbird has operated out of Salt Lake County, access has been from the Little Cottonwood side, it should remain this way. The proposed 416 acre land swap facilitates a contiguous piece of ground for Snowbird which then might encumber Utah County tax payers to foot the bill for improvements and a backdoor to American Fork, interconnected ski resorts, possibly a small village on Miller Hill. This is our concern.
Snowbird can use their private lands from the Little Cottonwood side, we do contend that they should not have access via American Fork Canyon. This would harm the watershed, the viewshed and be problematic to historic uses of the canyon. Access from the American Fork side, would be very problematic. Aside from these concerns we take no issue with the Mountain Accord process in the tri-county geography. The process has had wide representation from diverse opinions – but Mountain Accord Executives must take Utah County lands off the table until there is representation from Utah County.
When were Utah County public lands added into the negotiations and at said point in time, why were Utah County elected officials and Utah County Commissioners who have jurisdiction over county lands not invited to the Mountain Accord process?
Will the land swap hold Utah County tax payers hostage to pay for infrastructure once Snowbird has contiguous land? We worry that is one potential outcome, but to most, the land swap has been represented to be much less that it is… most only see a 416 acre land swap, we see a cascading triggering event that could double the size of Snowbird, be the largest land grab in the history of skiing, bring high cost housing developments to Mineral Basin and Miller Hill at the expense of Utah County taxpayers, increase the cost of water for Utah County citizens and developers, destroy the pristine view shed, yes this is what we see- and yes this is potentially highly problematic and costly to tax payers and costly to American Fork Canyon.
Out of the three parcels Snowbird desires to gain, only one parcel appears to be problematic, that is the 289 acre parcel that would create a contiguous piece of ground, connecting essentially Snowbirds resort from Little Cottonwood Canyon to the road near Tibble Fork in Utah county.
The tax revenues have been directed to stay in Salt Lake County historically, but contiguous lands could trigger infrastructure costs, and could potentially require Utah County to foot the bill for a private corporation [sewer, roads etc.] American Fork Canyon does not have the carrying capacity for a village at Miller Hill, it would displace citizens who have utilized this canyon for decades. Water and watershed should be a concern for all irrigation companies downstream, and developers in Lehi, Pleasant Grove, American Fork as the cost of water will skyrocket, we have a limited supply as it is, these facets need inspection and review, this is not merely about 416 acres.
Snowbird’s Bob Bonar speaks of one possible outcome for American Fork Canyon, expanded operations. We believe this dream, should remain only a dream. The price potentially too high to American Fork Canyon, the watershed and Utah County taxpayers. We believe that the environmental stewardship component is gravely absent in Snowbirds development plans. This is a timely article in support of protecting our lands. American Fork Canyon is unique, is the “Crown Jewel of the Wasatch” and needs intervention and protection.
Video of Fox Hollow Open Meeting – Snowbird presenting, followed by public Q and A
Mayor Ben McAdams we strongly urge you to lead out and involve Utah County and our elected officials in Mountain Accord process, and to postpone the critical Mountain Accord vote [mid July 2015] until Utah County is formally participating in the process. Anything less than including Utah County representation in the Mountain Accord process now Utah County public lands are involved, could become a media feeding frenzy and be problematic for those with political ambitions.
To exclude Utah County elected officials from the upcoming vote where Utah County lands are in the equation and Utah County elected officials in the dark, one must ask..why for the past 18 months Utah County was not invited to participate in Mountain Accord? Yes, its only 416 acres of public lands in Utah County, be these lands are key to negotiations and costs to tax payers could be in the tens of millions. Why no invitation to participate? Why does such a small piece of ground potentially tip a multi-year negotiation upside down? There must be great value in having a contiguous land holding for Snowbird and a second access point to their resort.
Which members of the Executive Committee for Mountain Accord are up for re-election? We suggest if elected officials participate in advancing the Mountain Accord vote (that includes land outside of the Mountain Accord jurisdiction- 416 acres in Mineral Basin, Utah County), that this is beyond the scope of the Mountain Accord jurisdiction and highly problematic to their political careers going forward. They are supposed to represent the people, and we here in Utah County have had no representation.
Our intention is not to derail Mountain Accord, rather to be involved in the process as Bob Bonar June 16th stated at the Fox Hollow Public Meeting.
Mr. Bob Bonar stated..”I would reiterate …you mentioned that it is a select group that is participating or a select group of stakeholders that are participating in this process. Snowbirds view is that this should be an open process….that involves hundreds of people. I believe that any of you that want to participate in this process should be able to do that.”
If we take Mr. Bonar at his word, that this is an open process and everyone should have a voice, then we are urging that Governor Gary Herbert, Mayor Ben McAdams and Ranger Dave Whittekiend lead Mountain Accord back to the democratic process… somewhere there seems to have been deviation from allowing key stakeholder participation ie. Utah County elected officials. This amounts to possible taxation [infrastructure costs ] without representation and the alarm bells should be ringing loudly for anyone who believes in democracy.
Listen to Bob Bonar here https://youtu.be/-ZtrLmxwWGA
Public Works Director Dale Goodman American Fork City “I think that we have been left out of this intentionally because that is what developers do… now Utah Valley is finally getting involved.. now we are aware of the encroachment into American Fork Canyon and we haven’t been aware in the past. I would say to all of you be aware of what you are up against, this is about a machine that is about making money and that’s really all they are concerned about.” Listen at 30 seconds https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTzwdFRCtMk
Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee “My concern again is the newness of this. This has been talked about.. now their is this land swap that seems to be this critical key point, which I personally don’t have enough information on it… At one point in time the Commissioners had in place a text amendment.. basically saying “Lets keep this over in Salt Lake County and lets not let it come over into Utah County.” Listen at 1:42 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTzwdFRCtMk
Citizen ” Mr. Bonar, you have said you want to get all the stakeholders at the table, but yet, in less than a month there is a critical vote that will help decide the future of AF Canyon that we all love. Would you consider putting that vote off at least the portion that affects Utah County until we can get involved? You say its been open but we have not known that its been going on. Would that be something that you would consider?” Mr. Bonar “Yeah, yeah, I really can’t.” Listen at 2:45 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTzwdFRCtMk
Cost to Taxpayers:
Once Snowbird has contiguous land.., they can double their resort footprint, potentially with a cost for Utah County tax payers to provide roads, sewer, electrical build out. This is a concern.
Had Utah County been party to the past 18 months of discussions and on the Mountain Accord steering committee, the vote could move forward. Since Utah County has not been involved, a vote that includes recommendations of including public lands in Utah County will stain the integrity of the Mountain Accord process and all participants therein.
We urge Mayor Ben McAdams to seriously consider the potential ramifications for rushing a vote without Utah County Representation.
What are the real costs over time, to citizens, to those who hunt, bike, 4 x 4, fish, ski, camp. To the animals, to the watershed, to the downstream citizens and families? These costs need to be factored in to any decision. This is much more than a small land swap. The price too high.
We urge Governor Herbert to insert yourself into the process of democracy and to either have Mountain Accord and the Forest Service withdrawn the 416 acres in Utah County, or appoint representation from Utah County to participate in the Mountain Accord process. We suggest AFCVision is poised to be a key player, Wasatch Backcountry Allliance, Save Our Canyons, MAG, and Protect and Preserve American Fork Canyon should be involved in the discussions forward in Utah County. If Mountain Accord does not want to involve Utah County representation for public lands in Utah County, we can and should sort this out in democratic processes in our county.
Sometimes government forgets that they work for the people, they get caught up in momentum that is larger than themselves and believe that they understand what is best for the citizens. Utah County residence are demanding a voice and are offering a friendly reminder that the Forest Service and elected officials work for the people.
We suggest that all elected officials should champion the idea of allowing Utah County Elected officials a place at the table, to delay the vote until Utah County can understand the potential ramifications and costs to Utah County tax payers if Utah County has to foot the bill for road widening, sewer, gas, communication lines to Miller Hill should Snowbird have a contiguous piece of land- resulting from the 416 acre Forest Service land swap.
Ideally, there would be no land swap before Utah County has an opportunity for public meetings and representation. There are 8 ski resorts within an hour drive.
As Willie Holdman – Co-Founder of Protect and Preserve American Fork Canyon put it.. https://youtu.be/R5JhJ9xnkVg
“We can’t see how Snowbird is going to improve what we are already enjoying with our families and its free.”
One possible solution down the road?
We see it that there is really only a 289 acre parcel [in the 416 desired]which in our view could potentially trigger a contiguous piece of private land ownership for Snowbird, displace the locals and potentially trigger Utah County to have to foot the bill to develop infrastructure. We have members of our team exploring what contiguous land would mean for tax payers and the potential cost to tax payers. What if a 100′ wide right of way were placed between the parcels to prevent a contiguous piece of land, to protect citizens from having to pay for infrastructure. We see this as a possible solution that David Whittekiend, Forest Supervisor should think about adding as a condition to protect Utah County Tax Payers from taxation without representation.
If the Mountain Accord vote is going to move ahead without Utah County representation, this is clearly problematic and should send shivers up the back of every elected official and outrage Utah County citizens.
Protect and Preserve American Fork Canyon is planning another open public meeting and we will openly invite all key stakeholders, all voting members of Mountain Accord to Utah County so that they can understand our concerns, answer questions we here in Utah County have about the Mountain Accord process and why Utah County has been excluded from the process.
If you would like to encourage Mayor McAdams to remember this is a democratic society, that he should lead out to to include Utah County representation in the process, slow the vote until issues are clearly understood, anything less could be problematic for all elected officials and their future plans of public service.
Citizens in the Facebook group “Protect and Preserve American Fork Canyon” please contact the Mayor McAdams, invite him to dialogue with the citizens in Utah County and all our elected officials and to postpone the mid-July vote until everyone really knows what the cost could be if Utah County tax payers are left to foot the bill for infrastructure needed up at Tibble Fork, Granite Flats or Miller Hill in American Fork Canyon.
1-Mountain Accord has no jurisdiction – The Mountain Accord process was a tri County process that crept into Utah County and has exceeded its geographic boundary.
2-Utah County has not been a participant. During this 18 month process in Salt Lake, Wasatch and Summit counties Utah County has not been represented. At the moment in time Utah County lands were added to the negotiations- Utah County representation should have been triggered.
3-Utah County tax payers could be encumbered if Snowbird has contiguous land, infrastructure costs could be in the tens of millions for sewer, roads, communications. The real cost of the 289 acre parcel could be in the tens of millions to taxpayers, the real value to Snowbird if they plan on putting housing on Miller Hill… to high a cost to American Fork Canyon, the public, the tax payer, the recreational enthusiast, the watershed.
4-If the Forwest Service does grant the land swap, only one piece is problematic… Utah County and the general public should have a 50′ wide easement across the 289 acre parcel, a historic easement, or right of way connecting recreation us to Mary Ellen Gulch and Mineral Basin, also preventing contiguous land and the tax payer from being on the hook for American Canyon access. Snowbird can continue to access their private lands from the Little Cottonwood side as they have been historically told to do. Tax revenues continue to flow to the Salt Lake County side. Snowbird is a cost to Utah County – a cost too high to bear.
5-AFCVision is not relevant to the Snowbird NEPA push.. if the blueprint of NEPA includes the Mineral Basin land.. basically it will end up being taxation without representation and the largest ski resort land grab in the history of the world. AFCVision could become relevant to Utah County and involve hundreds of stake holders as the Mountain Accord process has done in Utah County. Utah County would not involve any Salt Lake, Wasatch County or Summit County lands, through the AFCVision process geographic boundaries would be respected and Utah County could decide via a democratic process how / if / to utilize public lands in Mineral Basin.
Sometimes doing the right thing is hard, in this case it will be hard for many as the carrot has been dangled in front of each stakeholder after years of difficult negotiations. But “win-win or no deal” as Dr. Stephen Covey wisely said. At present, there is no real win for Utah County, just a cost. Postpone the vote. Include Utah County representatives. Remove the 416 acres from the Mountain Accord vote, its beyond their geographic boundary. Akin to Utah trading land in Arizona to Nevada without involving Arizona.. this is madness. MAG should take the lead for Utah County lands with participation from PPAFC, Save Our Canyons, Wasatch BackCountry Alliance, Sundance and all elected officials. AFCVision has no vote on Mountain Accord.
Why did participants in the Mountain Accord process not raise the awareness of Utah County lands being negotiated away anytime during the last 18 months? The participants on AFCVision- Did you know about the Utah County lands being negotiated away, and if so when, and if so then why did you not alert Utah County elected officials?
The Forest Service needs to hold off on including the 416 acres. It is the bait that could unravel the Mountain Accord process, but not if the process is integrity based. Now thatUtah County is aware of the potential cost to tax payers for infrastructure costs, perhaps a minor talking point that has not been mentioned to elected officials- that in and of itself is worthy of detailed analysis and those on the Mountain Accord Steering Committees and Executive Committees perhaps are not aware of what contiguous land would potentially trigger and cost Utah County tax payers, what it would cost American Fork Canyon, what potentially the mouth of Cedar Hills could become like Springdale, Utah, and that as Mayor Gygi and Representative Kennedy said in their $500k American Fork Gondola EIS study said “This is a game changer. Snowbird can already connect to Alta..” The 416 acre land exchange, does it create Ski-Link South- we fear so at a cost to Utah County that is too high to pay.
Another possible solution:
Even a 50′ wide easement from Mary Ellen Gulch to Mineral Basin would preclude Snowbird from encumbering Utah County tax payers to pay for development and provide continued historic access between drainages, we see this as one possible solution. Snowbird can still access their property via Little Cottonwood Canyon. They end up with 416 acres less a public right of way/ easement. Utah County tax payers are not on the hook for infrastructure costs, sewer, roads, widening etc.. and all of the Mountain Accord past negotiations can advance. If this “public right of way” between drainages is not acceptable to Snowbird, the real issue then surface which we believe is that of “contiguous ground” which is a game changer and possibly encumbers Utah County tax payers to foot the development costs for a “Deer Valley” like city at Miller Hill. To maintain integrity in the Mountain Accord process, Utah County needs representation before any vote is taken, and those involve in the Mountain Accord should champion this, to do otherwise violates their geographic boundaries and could be advancing the largest land grab in the history of skiing at a cost to tax payers.
Public Meeting Called:
We are working to secure American Fork High School for a second Public Meeting involving stakeholders on July 1st, 2015 between 6-10pm. Details forthcoming. Please schedule your time for participation.
We invite Governor Herbert, Vale Hale, Mayor McAdams, all Mountain Accord participants, all Utah County elected officials, all Utah County Commissioners, all concerned citizens, Mountainland Associations of Governors, AFCVision and all members of the press to attend.
Governor Herbert, as a former Utah County Commissioner and with your unique vantage of seeing the big picture, and recognition of the importance of Utah County citizens needing representation, I encourage you, Ben McAdams and Ranger Dave Whittekiend to return democracy and representation and to ask Mountain Accord to involve Utah County, MAG, AFCVision and other stakeholders in this most critical issue of protecting American Fork Canyon.
Co-Founder Protect and Preserve American Fork Canyon
Grama requests can be viewed at www.americanforkcanyon.com
County Commissioner / American Fork Public Works Director concerns
Why is expansion of Snowbird into Mineral Basin a good thing?
How was AFCVision funded?
Snowbird could double in size? Animation based upon Bob Bonar presentation.
Email those in charge of Mountain Accord and suggest Utah County have a vote, to postpone and include Utah County elected officials
Contact Mayor Ben McAdams
Utah Elected Officials
Forest Service Supervisor