Could Snowbird's refusal to help pay for a new fleet of canyon buses halt the ski resort's plans to build a new chairlift?

The Utah Transit Authority, chagrined at Snowbird's refusal, has asked the U.S. Forest Service not to approve the resort's "Baby Thunder" chairlift project until the flap between UTA and Snowbird is resolved.That flap centers around who should pay for 32 new buses to replace the UTA's aging fleet of specialized buses that serve the canyons.

UTA wants Snowbird to fork over $600,000 to help pay for the buses, which are expected to cost more than $200,000 each.

But Snowbird officials believe UTA's demand is unfair and that the ski resort shouldn't have to pay for a service that UTA is supposed to provide.

"All that I asked was that they give me one good reason why we should pay for a service they should be providing," said Ray Gardiner, Snowbird CEO. "They couldn't."

UTA, however, is now trying to put pressure on Snowbird via the Forest Service.

In a letter to Salt Lake District ranger Mike Sieg, Michael Allegra, assistant project director for UTA, said that mass transit is vital to Little Cottonwood Canyon's transportation plans.

"Therefore, we would recommend that approval of the Baby Thunder Project be delayed until negotiations with UTA or some other mass transit can be worked out," Allegra stated in his letter.

The Baby Thunder project is a new skilift to serve intermediate skiers. The project's final approval by the Forest Service already has been delayed several times by citizens groups concerned with its impacts on visitation, trans-por-tation and the canyon environment.

Snowbird officials are surprised that UTA is using these tactics.

"For them to get involved in (the Baby Thunder) issue is irrelevant," said Gardiner. "They have no position in this issue."

Gardiner said his company fully supports public transportation in the canyon. "We have done everything we could to encourage public transportation . . . and we will continue to do everything we can.

"The fact that UTA sent the letter (to the Forest Service) shows how anxious they are to continue this service because it is so valuable to them. In that case, they should assume their responsibility. What they are trying to do with the letter is to get us to pay them for something they are responsible for."

Bill Barnes, UTA spokesman, said if Snowbird does not pay for the buses, then bus service will not be provided to the ski resort. Buses will go past Snowbird to Alta, which has agreed to pay a share of replacing the aging fleet.