As Congress weighs whether to allow a land trade that would let Snowbasin Ski Resort expand into a year-round destination, some of the neighbors are making noise.
"Stop the rape of Snowbasin," said one sign at a Wednesday afternoon demonstration in downtown Ogden, where protesters insisted the proposed land exchange is an insider deal designed to benefit resort owners at the expense of the public.The land exchange is being pushed by the Salt Lake Organizing Committee, which wants the deal made quickly so the resort can be ready to host events even before the 2002 Winter Games.
Snowbasin is set to be the site of the downhill and Super G ski races during the Olympics, as well as national and international competitions. Olympic organizers want to hold races there at least a year prior to the Games.
"If the people from Ogden really understood, they'd all be out here," said Margo Smelzer, one of about 100 residents of the Ogden Valley, which sits on the back side of the Wasatch Mountains east of this city.
Smelzer, who helped organize Wednesday's event in front of the federal building, said critics take special exception to the part of the in-progress Omnibus Parks Bill that would give Snowbasin title to 1,320 acres of Forest Service land in exchange for 4,100 acres of private land.
"All of a sudden they're bypassing the public process and letting Congress give public lands to a private developer," said Smelzer. "We'll accept anything done properly, but this isn't being done properly."
Though the lopsided nature of the proposed exchange on its surface would seem to favor the Forest Service, opponents say that, in fact, Snowbasin would end up with real estate more valuable than anything it will sacrifice.
On top of that, said protesters, the expansion as envisioned would threaten a prime water supply for the region, the Ogden River. Snowbasin sits on a watershed that drains into the stream just below Pineview Reservoir.
The event signals a growing interest in the issue. It occurred coincidentally with news that a number of nationally prominent conservation groups are opposed to the deal. And earlier this month, a similar demonstration was held in downtown Salt Lake City.
Allen Olsen, an Ogden Canyon resident, waved a sign that said "No to Holding, Hatch and Hansen," a jab at Earl Holding, the Sinclair Oil magnate, and Rep. Jim Hansen and Sen Orrin Hatch, the two Republican members of the Utah congressional delegation pushing hardest for the trade. Sinclair Oil is part owner in the resort.
"They didn't include us in this," said Olsen, who argued that local roads can't handle the traffic such a project would create. "We have a two-lane canyon we live in . . . the traffic through there now is almost unbearable on weekends, summer and winter."
"We don't want it to be another California, another Park City."
Disguised as the grim reaper, Evelyn Draper of Huntsville said the Snowbasin expansion would destroy much of the area's beauty and would harm the river below.