Salt Lake City, Sandy cite water concerns in lawsuit over Little Cottonwood Canyon gondola

Dec 11, 2023, 4:05 PM | Updated: 10:28 pm

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Department of Transportation’s decision to move forward with a gondola in Little Cottonwood Canyon has sparked another lawsuit.

Salt Lake City, the city of Sandy and the Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake and Sandy filed a joint lawsuit in federal court on Monday, seeking to require the agency to file a supplemental environmental impact statement and federal record of decision that focuses more on the possible impact the project may have on Little Cottonwood Creek. They say it’s something that is lagging in the record of decision that UDOT filed in July.

The three entities say they want a new impact statement that meets the standards required in the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Transportation Act of 1966, and the Administrative Procedures Act. They point out that the canyon is a “significant source of drinking water” for residents across the Salt Lake Valley, serving residents in Salt Lake City, Sandy and a handful of other cities.

Its importance is why Salt Lake City leaders voiced concerns about any changes in the canyon throughout UDOT’s project planning process. The process ended when the agency selected a three-phase process to handle traffic in the canyon, ending with a gondola.

“Clean, safe drinking water is not something we take for granted — and we will take every step necessary to ensure this resource is considered and protected for residents throughout the valley,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall in a statement, adding that UDOT’s record of decision “failed” to properly “evaluate water resource impacts.”

The new lawsuit follows one that a pair of nonprofits and a group of residents filed in federal court last week, which seeks to pause the entire project until it fully complies with the National Environmental Policy Act. Representatives of the group argue that the project also is too expensive and there are “far cheaper commonsense solutions” to the the canyon’s traffic problems.

Salt Lake City, Sandy and the Metropolitan Water District of Salt Lake and Sandy officials contend that their lawsuit isn’t over the UDOT’s transportation decisions; they’re instead concerned about the water and the impact it may have on residents without a proper analysis.

“Everyone who depends on the water resources from the Little Cottonwood watershed and the Central Wasatch Mountains benefits from a comprehensive process that appropriately considers the impact to water supply and quality,” said Laura Briefer, director of Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities.

A UDOT spokesman said the agency is aware of the lawsuit, but the agency has not yet reviewed it.

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Salt Lake City, Sandy cite water concerns in lawsuit over Little Cottonwood Canyon gondola