SALT LAKE CITY - A coalition of conservation groups has launched a campaign designed to drum up opposition to a proposed gondola that would link two Utah ski resorts.
Save Our Canyons, the Sierra Club and the Wasatch Mountain Club are mounting the campaign against SkiLink, which would run from Canyons Resort in Park City to Solitude Mountain Resort in Big Cottonwood Canyon.
The groups announced the effort at a news conference Saturday at Solitude before taking a hike to show how the project would affect the alpine backcountry, The Salt Lake Tribune reported ( http://bit.ly/Pldzmp ).
"It's important to protect the integrity of public lands, the heart of the watershed and open space," said Mark Clemens of the Sierra Club's Utah chapter.
Republican members of Utah's congressional delegation have introduced legislation requiring the U.S. Forest Service to sell 30.3 acres of land needed for the project to Talisker Inc., the Canadian company that owns Canyons Resort.
If passed, it would remove the Forest Service from the regulatory process overseeing SkiLink, leaving decisions up to Salt Lake and Summit counties and Salt Lake City.
The Forest Service's master plan for the central Wasatch Mountains prohibits ski resort expansion on public lands.
The bill before Congress, state Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, said, "subverts the democratic process - and process matters. It sets an awful precedent for other public lands in Utah."
Mike Goar, managing director of Canyons Resort, characterized the arguments as "misinformation."
"This is not an end run around the public process," he said. "The federal legislation does not approve SkiLink by any measure. It just allows us to make application to the local jurisdictions ... Local elected officials will decide whether SkiLink goes forward."
A ridgeline unloading station was removed from the plan to be sensitive to environmental concerns, Goar added.
A petition drive against the gondola has collected 1,600 signatures so far, including from Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker.
"Clearly, people are very disturbed, not just about the project but the process," said Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons.