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Environmentalists sat on one side of the table while a representative for Snowbasin sat on the other side, as preliminary meetings got under way Friday in an attempt to resolve a land swap dispute involving the ski resort.

Official negotiations will begin Tuesday morning, with the media and the public excluded. Orville Tice, a professional mediator from Seattle who has thus far been paid $15,000 of taxpayers' money, will head the negotiations.The controversy began last year when Snowbasin owner Earl Holding wanted to swap 1,320 acres of private land for public lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service so Holding could expand his resort.

When the Forest Service agreed to swap only 220 acres of land, Holding, Weber County and Ogden City filed appeals with the government. Environmentalists also filed appeals, saying they opposed even swapping the 220 acres.

Now Intermountain Regional Forester Stan Tixier must decide by July 2 what to do, if anything, with those appeals.

The Forest Service hired Tice to meet with interested parties and try to come up with a new agreement that everybody can live with.

Those attending the negotiations will be Susan Gianattino, Wasatch-Cache Forest supervisor; Chris Peterson, representing Snowbasin; John Bellmon, Audubon Society; Al Rivas, Sierra Club; and Weber County Attorney Reed Richards, representing Ogden and Weber County.

Gianattino told the group Friday that if they can reach an agreement, she will then issue a new order making the appeals moot. But she warned that other outside interest groups or individuals will also have a right to appeal the new agreement.

Tice also told the negotiators that the Forest Service is not obligated to abide by their agreement, but that he is hoping that everybody could sit down, talk and try to reach a consensus.

"You are in a position to rule your own destiny, to write your own ticket," Tice said. "If we're going to get anywhere, folks, it's because we can negotiate."

The mediator told the group that they were free to leave the table anytime, but that if one person walked, the negotiations would come to a halt.