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SNOWBASIN LAND-SWAP PLAN HITS SNAG

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Snowbasin Ski Resort may end up getting only a portion of the 1,320 acres it wanted in a land swap with the Forest Service because of potential environmental impacts of the deal, officials said Tuesday.

Further, the Forest Service says a final decision on the trade could take another year or more.Spokesman Pat Sheehan said the Forest Service is considering whether the Snowbasin area would be better managed in private or government hands and whether it should approve the Snowbasin master plan put together by resort owner Earl Holding.

Those decisions are expected to be made by Jan. 15, but a final decision on the details of the land swap could take more than a year after that, said Sheehan.

He said recent statements by former Forest Service geologist Earl Olson about the potential for a landslide in the heart of the proposed land-swap area has affected the swap's environmental impact statement.

"Earl's report could be a weighty issue," Sheehan said.

He said the Forest Service is considering five alternatives, ranging from total approval to total disapproval of the land exchange.

"One of the alternatives is approval of a land exchange for less land than the developer has requested," he said, adding that one concern is development of condos "not appropriate to Forest Service lands."

He said that concern would be considered in approving Snowbasin's master plan and might affect the amount of property the Forest Service is willing to let go.

Snowbasin officials could not be reached for comment.

The proposed land swap involves 1,320 acres near Snowbasin to be traded to ski resort owners in exchange for land of equal value in the Wasatch-Cache National Forest area.

Richard Kline, U.S. Forest Service spokesman for the Wasatch-Cache National Forest, said the draft environmental impact statement should be available to the public by Nov. 1. A 45-day comment period is then required.

The controversial land-swap proposal has the backing of Sens. Orrin Hatch and Jake Garn and Rep. Jim Hansen, all R-Utah, plus the support of local government and business officials who say the development will provide economic benefits to the community and state.

Environmentalists oppose the land swap, saying it will destroy wildlife habitat and a watershed area, and that nearby recreation opportunities for hiking and other outdoor activities will be lost.