Salt Lake County has land-use authority over much of the Wasatch Canyons, and year after year Mayor Ben McAdams tells us that he is a wise steward of our land and watershed. He rehearses his watershed talking points as he justifies the millions of dollars extracted from the canyons.
However, the recent request by the U.S. Forest Service to start charging user fees for Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood canyons destroys the environmental picture painted by McAdams. The Forest Service request is an acknowledgement of a polluted and unkempt watershed. It is a testament to the pilfered millions of dollars that were extracted by Salt Lake County and other government agencies and spent elsewhere, not for their promised use.
The Forest Service is stating the obvious with its request. Our watershed is degraded and our canyons polluted. We have inadequate restroom facilities, poor trail maintenance, soil erosion and inadequate parking or transportation solutions. Salt Lake County residents have already paid dearly for these services, only to be told that we need to pay for them again.
Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City and the Forest Service must provide to the public a detailed and transparent breakdown of the millions of dollars in taxes and water and lease fees that are extracted from the canyons. According to some calculations, the two canyons are producing around $230 million annually.
Salt Lake County collects millions of property tax dollars from vacant backcountry lands and millions in sales tax from Snowbird, Alta, Solitude and Brighton resorts. The county spends those millions outside the canyons as they ignore the request from their own health department for more restroom facilities in the canyons. These monies can easily pay for the needed restrooms and should be seen as a priority for the county.
While some may argue that user fees are successful in other canyons such as American Fork and Millcreek, they are simply not comparing apples to apples. American Fork and Millcreek canyons do not have the tremendous tax base that Big Cottonwood and Little Cottonwood canyons have, nor are Utah County residents subject to $1.5 million in annual watershed fees that Salt Lake County residents pay.
Once again, the public in Salt Lake County is seeing McAdams, et al., turn to the feds to do something we should be doing ourselves. Why must we wait for the Forest Service to determine that the situation in our canyons is so dire that they must step in with a user fee to fix it?
Our elected officials and public servants must stop abusing their citizens. Our elected and appointed officials know that Salt Lake County residents will sacrifice financially for environmental issues: clean watershed, clean air and wise land stewardship. Unfortunately, our elected officials abuse this cause and the sincerity of its citizens while raising our canyon taxes and fees for non-canyon items.
We must hold the officials accountable. It is time for them to stop telling us that without taking more of our money that our water will be contaminated. Stop telling us that we cannot have adequate and clean restroom facilities in the canyons at current tax and fee rates. Stop telling us that we need to spend another million dollars on another transportation study and stop calling for more federal control.
As your County Mayor, I will say NO to additional fees in the canyons. I will be honest with you: the public and taxpayers. We will build enough restrooms in the right locations to help ensure a clean watershed. We will improve trails, roads, parking areas and we will immediately start year round bus service that is efficient, timely and affordable.