About 50 supporters of 1st Congressional District Democratic candidate Greg Sanders rallied here Tuesday, protesting the Forest Service land swap approved by Congress last week.
"I cannot understand how the president can be so worried about the environmental impacts of the Escalante monument and sign the omnibus Parks Bill, which includes the Snowbasin land swap, at the same time," said Marcie Smith, coordinator of Students for Sanders. "We want the president to know that Utahns, especially students, are not happy about the swap."Smith said the rally was "a where-do-we-go-from-here sort of thing."
The bill authorizes the trade of 1,320 acres of Forest Service land at Snowbasin for 4,115 acres located in various other places in Utah. Developer Earl Holding said the swap was essential for his resort to be able to handle Olympic events planned at Snowbasin.
The venue will host the downhill and Super G ski races.
Approval of the land swap strikes near the heart of Sanders' message. He has made the controversial measure a central tenet of his campaign. Now that it's a done deal, however, he is changing tactics from preventing it to dealing with it.
For instance, Sanders said he would be a better person than his opponent, Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, to oversee development of the property because Hansen supported the trade and would, Sanders said, be lax in enforcing federal environmental regulations.
"I think Hansen's going to be punished by the voters for this," he said.
Sanders disapprovingly noted that the bill does not require additional environmental impact studies before the trade takes place. But Allen Freemyer, staff director of the subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Lands, said the site has already been "studied to death."
"I have a 2-foot stack of studies in my office that have been done on that land," he said.
The Tuesday rally mainly comprised Students for Sanders groups from Weber State University, Utah State University and the University of Utah. There is another such group at Southern Utah University. Sanders has focused on spreading his message to Utah collegians, who in turn have worked to publicize his candidacy and register fellow students.
"The students have been a bright spot in this campaign," he said.
All told, 70 to 80 students are involved, with most concerned primarily about environmental issues, Smith said.
Now that the land swap is history, Sanders said he would turn his focus more toward Hansen's adversarial tactics in Congress and his own self-described more moderate approach. Sanders has blamed Hansen for President Clinton's recent designation of 1.7 million acres of southern Utah land as a national monument because of Hansen's prickly relationship with the White House.
"We ought to be talking about ways of healing the relationship," Sanders said.
Neil Hansen, a Weber County Commission candidate, also spoke at the rally. The commission will be largely responsible for overseeing development of the new Snowbasin, which will become a four-season resort.