SALT LAKE CITY — A state legislator hopes to make Bridal Veil Falls a state landmark after a developer’s proposal to build an aerial tram and lodge there went public late last year. .
Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, is proposing a bill to give popular waterfalls the designation to help preserve it for future generations and add safety resources and utilities like bathrooms and better car park.
The Utah Legislature paved the way for this end in 2019 with the State Monuments Act, noted Stratton.
“There are several real gems in our state that aren’t really well suited for a state park,” Stratton said.
“Bridal Veil Falls is also an upper and lower waterfall – a beautiful and spectacular system of falls,” Stratton said. Naming the monument would require the Utah County Commission to “represent residents” in the way it manages the land in the future, he said.
The bill comes after controversy in December over the future of the roughly 22 acres around the falls owned by the county.
After public outcry over the possibility of the owner of Cirque Lodge, a well-known drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, building a cable car and lodge at the top of the falls, the commission voted to place the land in an easement of preservation.
Under the easement, the land is now managed by Utah Open Lands, an accredited land trust that will provide stewardship of the property. The county retained ownership of the land.
This week, Cirque Lodge owner Richard Losee filed a lawsuit against Utah County over the decision. Losee alleges that the conservation easement was a violation of county code and he is seeking to have it invalidated.
“There is no need for the County to assign such an easement to a third party, as the County is already fully capable of ‘retaining’ ownership of Bridal Veil Falls at no cost to the public,” Losee’s attorneys wrote in the lawsuit filed. Wednesday in 4th District Court.
“The sole reason for granting such an easement was to prevent a future Board of County Commissioners from authorizing any other use of the Bridal Veil Falls property,” according to the lawsuit.
After Losee learned of the county’s plan to deed the land under a conservation easement, he offered to lease or buy a small portion of the property for a higher price than originally paid by the county, according to the complaint.
Losee’s proposal “included the use of small portions of the total Bridal Veil Falls property for a base station and an upper station for a streetcar that would be made available to the public to enjoy the scenery at reasonable prices and to parking at the base,” the lawyers wrote. .
The developer alleges that after a public hearing into the matter on Dec. 9, he and county commissioners were “bombarded with misrepresentations (to put it mildly) and vicious personal attacks” about the project.
The county circumvented rules that govern the transfer of property of significant value when it voted for the easement, according to the complaint.
“Based on information and beliefs, the commission has attempted to assert that the Bridal Veil Falls property is ‘surplus property’ in an apparent effort to avoid statutory disposition requirements,” the lawsuit states.
Stratton said if Losee wins his lawsuit, the state landmark designation would add an extra layer of protection for the land from commercial development.
“A state monument prevents — it’s like a state park — in terms of doing things that help it be a world-class place in terms of safety and having bathrooms and good parking lot and so on, it allows all of that. But in terms of commercial development, it wouldn’t be compatible with a state monument anywhere,” he said.
If the conservation easement continues, Stratton said it would align with the state monument designation. The bill will also include a request for appropriations, which could be funded from a one-time state budget surplus.
On Friday, Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying he could not comment on ongoing litigation.
“What the county did in granting the conservation easement to Utah Open Lands was to codify the will of the people,” Utah Open Lands executive director Wendy Fisher said Friday.
She also declined to comment further due to ongoing litigation.