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Cottonwood Heights Journal

Salt Lake County leaders stand firm against construction of the canyon gondola

Jun 30, 2022 08:44PM ● By Peri Kinder

By Peri Kinder | [email protected]

To counteract what they feel is a pro-gondola media blitz, a group of bipartisan elected officials and community leaders met near the entrance to Little Cottonwood Canyon to express their opposition to the proposed canyon gondola and to set the record straight about what they consider to be a “misleading” and “detrimental” pro-gondola campaign.

Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson addressed the crowd of nearly 100 residents and said her family enjoys the trails and ski slopes in the canyons, but believes the gondola project would be a mistake.

            “We are here because we love Little Cottonwood Canyon,” she said. “Don’t you think the canyon deserves a little more time to get it right?’

The Utah Department of Transportation is considering two options it hopes will alleviate traffic up the canyons.

The first is the gondola with a price tag of nearly $600M. It would consist of 22 towers, with base stations at the entrance to Little Cottonwood Canyon and Alta and Snowbird ski resorts. Expanding the road up the canyon and enhancing bus service is UDOT’s second option with a cost of more than $500M.

A majority of attendees at the gathering voiced opposition to the gondola, many arguing the project is more focused on economic development than solving a transportation problem.

Brad Rutledge is a founding member of Wasatch Backcountry Alliance, a group dedicated to preserving the backcountry experience of the Central Wasatch mountains. The organization created a pilot shuttle program during the 2021-22 ski season where people could ride for free or for a small donation. Rutledge said the program was a success.

“We want to see increased bus service that’s affordable. We want to see incentives to get you out of your car,” he said. “We need solutions that work today so we don’t have to ruin the canyons.”

The Salt Lake County Mayor’s Office listed what it calls “Common-Sense Solutions” that it believes would be more fiscally responsible and sustainable than widening the canyon road or building a gondola.

These solutions include widening Wasatch Boulevard, purchasing more buses, creating a tolling infrastructure and more trailhead parking, and building a noise wall for residents living near the canyons.

Officials said those solutions would cost less than $250M while preserving the integrity and beauty of the canyons.

Salt Lake County Councilman Richard Snelgrove said the gondola would do “irreparable” and “permanent harm” to the canyons. “These mountains behind us are the crown jewel of Salt Lake County,” he said. “They need to be protected for future generations.”

Department of Public Utilities at Salt Lake City Corporation Director Laura Briefer addressed the gondola project through the eyes of water quality, as the canyons provide drinking water for Salt Lake County.

She issued a concern that construction of the gondola towers would create a destructive footprint that will compromise water quality to residents. These concerns are increased by the current historic drought and growth in the county.

“The canyons provide 60% of the water supply for a large and growing population in Salt Lake County,” Brief said. “[The gondola project] will widen roads and threaten the water supply in the short- and long-term.”

Other elected representatives opposed to the gondola attending the meeting, included State Sen. Jani Iwamoto and Reps. Suzanne Harrison and Carol Spackman Moss.

Community groups voicing opposition included Friends of Alta, Friends of Little Cottonwood Canyon, Green Latinos, Latino Outdoors, League of Women Voters of Salt Lake, Salt Lake Climbers Alliance, Save Not Pave, Save Our Canyons, Students for the Wasatch, Wasatch Backcountry Alliance and Wasatch Mountain Club.

Sandy Mayor Monica Zoltanski said she doesn’t want taxpayers picking up the tab for the gondola and will “exhaust her last breath” to make sure decision-makers are aware of her stance.

“The people of Sandy do not want a gondola up this canyon,” she said. “There are better ideas for what will work in Little Cottonwood Canyon. We have great minds here. Why can’t we put common-sense solutions to the test?”