Legislative reform is slow, B1;
Abortion controversy won't die, B3.State Rep. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, says he will introduce a bill this legislative session that would open Wasatch Mountain State Park to private development.
The Utah Board of Parks and Recreation in December gave the cold shoulder to a proposal similar to the one to be outlined in Dmitrich's bill, arguing it would set a dangerous precedent. Deer Run Development, which proposed building a pair of golf courses, a hotel and a housing subdivision on some 1,200 acres at the park, simultaneously lobbied legislators to consider such a project.
Approval can be granted by either park board decree or legislative fiat.
"This is a more open way of doing it, through the legislative process, with hearings in both the House and the Senate," said Dmitrich, one of three lawmakers who accepted an overnight, expense-paid golf trip to Oregon sponsored last fall by Deer Run.
Mary Tullius, a spokeswoman for the state Division of Parks and Recreation, said board members meeting Friday remained adamant in their opposition. She said, "They will write a letter saying they don't support such an action."
Dmitrich said his proposed law would mandate the division to accept bids for a project at Wasatch Mountain like the one Deer Run is proposing. The land in question abuts Deer Creek Reservoir at the south end of the park. It has long been slated for golf-course construction, but the state says it lacks the money for such a project.
Deer Run Development, spearheaded by Orem dermatologist Richard Parkinson and bankrolled by national hotelier John Q. Hammonds, majority stockholder in the Embassy Suites and Holiday Inn chains, wanted the state to deed the land to their Utah company in exchange for building an 18-hole state golf course on it. Their proposal also called for construction of a private course, a 200-room resort hotel and about 400 luxury homes on the property, taken by the state from local landowners during the 1960s.Members of the park board during a December public hearing at nearby Midway said such a deal would open the door to similar development of state parkland elsewhere.
Senate Whip Craig Peterson, R-Orem, who is generally supportive of Dmitrich's proposal, said any statute voted on by lawmakers would likely have "about a zillion conditions on it" and would probably require the winning bid to include provisos for returning a like number of acres to the state parks system.
"It would be a one-time, one-deal (statute)," he said. "We would not be opening the floodgates. We are not going to sell off Bear Lake or Antelope Island."
Peterson said he believes most of the much-publicized opposition to the Wasatch proposal comes from well-to-do newcomers who live near the park.
"I don't think both sides are being told," said Peterson. "These are people who have built two-hundred- and three-hundred- and four-hundred-thousand-dollar houses up there, and they don't want neighbors."
Peterson said that much of the land is being leased at token cost to farmers who graze cattle on it and said a project like the one Deer Run proposes would be an economic boon to Wasatch County, overall one of the state's less-affluent regions.