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Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City calls on members to oppose gondola project

Posted at 4:20 PM, Sep 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-13 19:42:18-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City is urging its members to oppose a gondola in Little Cottonwood Canyon, arguing that the proposed project would harm the environment and take money that could be spent helping those in need.

"The gondola is not an option for the poor and using that kind of state funding, for an option that will not benefit anyone who is low income seems like a pretty poor use of taxpayer funds to us," Jean Hill, the director of the Catholic Diocese's Office of Life, Justice & Peace, said in an interview Tuesday with FOX 13 News.

The Diocese sent an email to Catholics across the state, urging them to weigh in against UDOT's recommendation for the gondola. UDOT has a 45-day public comment period under way.

"We believe all public policy should be judged by how it impacts the most vulnerable. This one does horrible things for the most vulnerable," Hill said. "Because it does absolutely does nothing for them. It’s a substantial amount of funding going to something that’s really only going to benefit people who can already afford to ski, first of all, and can only afford this transportation option."

Earlier this month, UDOT recommended a gondola to alleviate traffic and congestion for Little Cottonwood Canyon by ferrying passengers from La Caille to Snowbird and Alta ski resorts. However, the agency suggested it be "phased in" and allow for other transit options like buses to be used.

The gondola has faced opposition from Republican and Democratic leaders alike, as well as members of communities surrounding the canyon. It will ultimately be up to the Utah State Legislature to decide if it should be funded. UDOT has estimated costs could reach over a half-billion dollars for a gondola, but the agency argued it may be cheaper than other modes of transportation long-term.

The two ski resorts who would benefit from a gondola, Snowbird and Alta, did not immediately have a comment when contacted by FOX 13 News on Tuesday.

"We appreciate all public comments on the draft Little Cottonwood Canyon environmental study. Public feedback is an essential part of our process. The 45-day comment period is open through October 17. Following a review of all public comments, UDOT will release a final document. Funding will not be identified until a final decision is made," UDOT said in a statement.

It's the cost that bothers the Diocese, Hill said. The money could pay for free transit for everyone or expand affordable housing options across the state.

"Budgets are moral documents. That idea of how we spend taxpayer funding, we’re making moral decisions here," Hill said. "And for us, the moral decision is let’s put that kind of money into things that are going to benefit the least among us."

The Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City frequently weighs in on social causes and bills on Utah's Capitol Hill, ranging from abortion and the death penalty to homelessness and housing. Under the law, churches can weigh in on social issues without fear of losing their tax-exempt status. They cannot endorse particular political candidates.