Frequently Asked Questions are under continuous development and will be added to regularly.
Question 1: What is the American Fork Canyon Vision?
A: The AFC Vision project is a collaboration between citizens, stakeholders, and government partners to establish a comprehensive “Vision” for the future of the Canyon. There is no current “master plan” that coordinates the plans of federal, state, and local government partners. AFCV seeks to obtain the public’s values and desires and to develop a broadly supported vision for the canyon, which the participating partners will potentially adopt through their own planning processes. For example, UDOT or UTA, as a result of the Vision, may bring roadway or bus system improvements into their long-term planning by adding them to the State’s Unified Transportation Plan and seeking project funding. The process will consider many possible projects identified during the process (e.g., roadway improvements, transit, campgrounds, toilets, trails, signage, private property proposals, federal boundary management, environmental cleanups, stream restoration, parking, bike lanes, etc.).
Question 2: Who is involved in American Fork Canyon Vision?
A: The whole public is involved, and public engagement is at the heart of the Vision. AFCV steering committee includes representatives from the following agencies and organizations (alphabetically):
- American Fork City
- Cedar Hills City
- Mountainland Association of Governments
- Save our Canyons
- Snowbird Resort
- Utah (Elected Officials)
- Sundance Resort
- Timpanogos Cave National Monument
- United States Forest Service
- Utah County
- Utah Department of Transportation
- Utah Elected Officials (State and Federal)
- Utah Transit Authority
- Wasatch County
- Wasatch Mountain State Park
Question 3: How is the AFCV Project funded?
A: The project was initiated with a legislative earmark from the State of Utah to the Mountainland Association of Governments (MAG), who maintains the project contracts. MAG has openly solicited funding from steering and other partners, and donations/contributions will be accepted throughout the project. At present, project funding is summarized as follows:
- REVENUE: $100K from the State of Utah, and $50K from Snowbird.
- EXPENSES: $80K to Logan Simpson for project planning and facilitation, and $58K to Utah State University for 1 year of canyon user intercept surveying and reporting.
Question 4: What is the Canyon Intercept Survey, and will its results be made available?
A: Throughout 2016, a team of specialists will be conducting “Intercept Surveys” in the canyon. The surveyors will make contact with canyon users and ask them to spend a few minutes answering questions about the way they use the canyon. The data from this survey effort will yield a statistically-valid dataset that can be used to inform decisions meaningfully. It is important for users to help with the surveys to ensure their uses and interests are best represented and reported. The data from the survey will be made available (raw and summarized) at the conclusion of each quarter’s activity. Transparency is critical and will be observed absolutely. The intercept survey is being conducted by Utah State University via the Utah Conservation Corps with help from the Forest Service.
Question 5: Is the AFCV mostly about Snowbird expansion?
A: No. AFCV is an objective, public planning process that looks at the Canyon’s opportunities and needs in the context of the natural environment, recreational use and demand, and the built facilities that accommodate use. Snowbird, Sundance, and other private landowners in the canyon may propose different uses on their lands. The Vision should provide public agencies with high-level direction that can be used when considering private land proposals.
Question 5a: What are Snowbird’s interests in American Fork Canyon?
A: Snowbird owns significant quantities of private land in American Fork Canyon, and the Resort’s special use permit boundary contains over 600 acres in the Canyon, most of which is private land, and some of which is public land. Snowbird currently operates two ski lifts in the Mineral Basin area on private land. Utah County is the entity with land use approval authority for private property proposals in the Canyon. Any ski area expansion on U.S. Forest Service land would require a Forest Plan amendment, which would require NEPA analysis. Any discussion regarding Snowbird utilizing public lands is subject to NEPA, and is separate from AFC Vision. The NEPA process requires public involvement, which is where the public will have access to future decisions regarding Snowbird proposals on public lands.
Question 5b: What exactly is Snowbird’s current plan?
A: Snowbird does not have a formal ski area expansion plan. Over the years, Snowbird has, and will continue to, consider different concepts for using its private lands. Snowbird has stated its intent to engage the AFC Vision process in order to learn the public’s values and preferences for future private land use in the Canyon, potentially including connecting Utah County’s population to Snowbird’s amenities and services via the Canyon.
Question 6: How is AFCV related to Mountain Accord?
A: The two projects are completely separate and independent. MA envisions a land exchange where Snowbird acquires about 416 acres in AFC http://mountainaccord.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/11-January-2015-Cottonwood-Taskforce-Recommendation.pdf. These parcels are essentially the same ones that have been considered for many years within the Matheson Wilderness Bill. Snowbird has agreed that it would not place residential development or residential-type infrastructure on those parcels.
The MA-supported land exchange remains open to public comment, and key questions that would make the exchange possible are not resolved. For example, Alta Ski Area has not agreed to make Grizzly Gulch available, and Salt Lake City has not agreed to make water available as a result. The entire land exchange package hinges on significant, unresolved questions like this one, which are unlikely to be resolved any time soon. Even if a land exchange is formally proposed, it must enter the public NEPA process and a very complex appraisal and valuation process. There will be many more opportunities for public involvement and public decisionmaking before any land exchange can be completed.
The MA land exchange concept should be engaged by all interested parties – through Mountain Accord’s official channels (http://mountainaccord.com/public-comments/). The AFCV process does not in any way influence or control Mountain Accord’s timelines or outcomes. However, one of AFCV’s key purposes is to develop policy direction from the public for coordinating future private land-use proposals in the canyon.
Question 7: What events led to the AFC Vision project?
A: Recent years have seen tremendous growth in both volume and diversity of recreational activity in the canyon. This isn’t a new issue. The National Park Service, for example, first proposed a transit system to alleviate parking issues at Timpanogos Cave back in 1993. Today, however, accelerated growth and development in Northern Utah County brings more and more people to the canyon, and each of these people come with their own desires and ideas.
There are some recurring issues over time – increased traffic and congestion on canyon roads, safety for bicyclists, parking at key trailheads, maintaining and balancing use between motorized, non-motorized, and equestrian users, and access from upper American Fork Canyon to the developed ski areas of Little Cottonwood Canyon, to name just a few.
It was the latter issue which provided the impetus for local leaders to begin what is now the AFC Vision process. It began with an informal proposal from Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort (Snowbird) and local leaders to build a gondola from Granite Flats to Twin Peaks, allowing Utah County residents to access Snowbird and Alta ski operations. When members of the Utah County Council of Governments began to consider Snowbird’s ideas in early 2014, they realized that a public planning process would be required. Further, they recognized that any planning process for the canyon should be a comprehensive “vision” for the canyon, looking at traffic, congestion, environmental protection, economics, and infrastructure, and should be driven primarily by local residents who live and work right next door.
These local leaders began to gather key stakeholders and seek a combination of public and private funding to develop the document we are now calling the American Fork Vision. Initially, it was assumed that such a plan would require an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which, by some estimates, could easily cost up to $500,000. Working under that assumption, a request was made to the Utah State Legislature in early 2014 for that amount.
The Legislature did not fund the full request, but instead allocated $100,000 to undertake a higher-level public “Vision” to consider a broader range of questions in the canyon.
Also in early 2014, local leaders engaged the US Forest Service and the National Park Service about this proposal. The two federal land agencies agreed that consideration of an EIS was premature, lacking a formal proposal to consider, but felt that gathering data of quantity and variety of recreational uses in the canyon as well as the preferences and ideas of canyon users and local residents could help inform future decision making.
The second major event was developing the scope of the Vision, and the goals and principles to be followed.
These were built into a Request for Proposals (RFP): (http://web.mountainland.org/site/webroot/images/upload/files/American%20Fork%20Canyon%20Vision%20RFP%20DRAFT.pdf), and a neutral, third-party facilitator was chosen (Buck Swaney with Logan Simpson) to help create a long-term public vision for land use and recreation in the Canyon. The Mountainland Association of Governments (Mayors and County Commissioners in Summit, Wasatch, and Utah counties) used the legislative appropriation to fund the facilitator’s contract.
The Vision is now being run to develop ideas and recommendations for dealing with private land proposals, public land management, and environmental, recreation, and other needs in the project area. Cedar Hills, Highland City, American Fork City, and Utah County at the mouth of American Fork Canyon have been interested in water quality protection and economic development opportunities associated with the Canyon’s recreation, natural, and cultural attractions.
Question 8: How does this process relate to the requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)?
A: The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is the law that requires federal agencies to consider the environmental impacts of their actions. The NEPA process generally involves evaluating one or more alternatives, while providing the public notice of proposed actions along with the opportunity to make formal comments.
- “The need to take an action may be something the agency identifies itself, or it may be a need to make a decision on a proposal brought to it by someone outside of the agency, for example, an applicant for a permit. Based on the need, the agency develops a proposal for action (Number 1 in Figure 1). If it is the only Federal agency involved, that agency will automatically be the “lead agency,” which means it has the primary responsibility for compliance with NEPA. (A citizen’s guide to NEPA, CEQ 2007).
The Vision document produced by this project should result in ideas and recommendations to the land management agencies from interested citizens, local government, and organizations. If the ideas are consistent with current plans (such as the USFS Forest Plan for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache) that have been produced in accordance with NEPA, they could move to implementation.
Where any new ideas or recommendations conflict with current plans, or where they have not been analyzed in previous NEPA work, they cannot be implemented until they are put through the NEPA compliance process, which will give the public another opportunity for formal notice and comment. In other words, this Vision process should help identify desired actions, but anything it proposes will still require the appropriate impact analysis, public notice, and comments under NEPA.
Question 9: Aren’t the Snowbird development ideas already a “proposal” that trigger the NEPA requirement?
A: The process for preparing an application to initiate a “proposal” that can be considered in NEPA is outlined at 36 CFR 251.54(g). If an applicant desires to occupy or use National Forest System (NFS) lands, it is their responsibility to initiate the process formally. NEPA begins when an agency develops a proposal to address a need to take an action.
These informal proposals for ski area development and construction of a gondola from upper American Fork Canyon should not be confused with a recent proposal for smaller improvements under the existing Snowbird permit. In November, 2014, the USFS received proposals from Snowbird requesting authorization to modify the Path to Paradise skiway and to build a structure and temporary access on NFS land to house a military howitzer to be used in avalanche mitigation in Mineral Basin. These proposals are within the existing permitted ski area boundary, and consistent with the master plan for area, so were determined to be categorical exclusions to further NEPA analysis, with no requirement for public scoping. The Forest Service, though it was not required to do so, did issue a Scoping Notice on April 17 requesting public comment on these proposals. No other formal proposals have been received from Snowbird regarding development in this area.
- Forest Service Handbook 1909.15, Chapter 12.24 clarifies further: “The responsible official shall make policies or staff available to advise potential applicants of studies or other information foreseeably required for acceptance of their applications. Upon acceptance of an application as provided by 36 CFR 251.54(g) the responsible official shall initiate the NEPA process. (36 CFR 220.4(i))…The responsible official may require project proponents to conduct studies and provide data and documentation for consideration and use in preparing an EIS.”
Question 10: How much private land is in the project area, and where is it located?
A: The project area includes about 8,400 acres of private land in and around Sundance resort; and about 2,700 acres of private land in the vicinity of Mineral Basin. These acreages are approximate and based on the best available ownership data from the Utah Automated Geographic Reference Center (www.gis.utah.gov). We expect to refine and validate acreages and locations in the near future. The entire project boundary for AFC Vision contains approximately 84,500 acres.