Young comes up high, dry on cabin permit for dad

Apr 16 2011 - 4:25pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- Ski bum or lawyer?

Steve Young still laughs hearing his father recall those glory days at Alta Ski Patrol in Utah's Little Cottonwood Canyon.

"To this day, he's not sure he made the right decision," the Hall of Fame quarterback joked recently.

It's those fond memories that have son determined to find a way to build his dad that dream cabin in a remote forested area within the tiny ski resort southeast of Salt Lake City.

He just has one problem: Young owns the land but not the water rights.

Salt Lake City owns water rights in the canyon dating back to a court ruling more than 120 years.

And the city isn't about to begin selling its precious resource or permits to build housing in its watershed."He wants us to give him and his neighbors water," said Jeff Niermeyer, Salt Lake City's director of public utilities. "There's hundreds of these (lots) potentially out there and we always (ask), 'Does this set a bad precedent?"' Niermeyer said.

But what's a little water, especially when record snowpack this year has Utah worried about major spring flooding? Actually it's a big issue, record snowpack or not, Niermeyer said, as Salt Lake City sits on the edge of a desert.

"It's true," said Alta town administrator John Guldner. "There have been years up here where there's no snow until January and we're asking people to put a brick in their toilet" to save water.

Niermeyer said Salt Lake City has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to develop water conservation and delivery systems, and tens of millions acquiring resources.

"And we're very diligent in protecting those rights for the needs of the city," he said.

It leaves Young and some of his neighbors literally high and dry, though he's quick to say he doesn't want this portrayed as a big fight. He's just searching for a solution so his 75-year-old father can spend time in a place that has such special meaning.

"Utah is in our blood," the former NFL quarterback told The Associated Press.

Young was a star at Brigham Young University in Provo, earned his own law degree from the school, and still returns to Snowbird Ski and Summer Resort each year for the Steve Young Ski Classic that benefits the Wasatch Adaptive Sports Program.

His father, LeGrande Young, played football at BYU in the late 1950s, and led the school in scoring in 1955 and in rushing and total offense in 1959. He later earned a law degree from the University of Utah.

"I would love to figure out a way very simply to put something up there for my father," Young said. "I'm not angry about it. I'm just trying to figure it out in a way that is positive for the watershed."

Young has owned the parcel since 1990, and admits he knew there were water issues when he bought it, but figured there'd eventually be a way to build.

"It's pretty untenable to think you couldn't build on it and no one would have thought you couldn't figure this out over 20 years," he said.

Young contends big users unfairly get all the water in the area. He points to Snowbird, which has continued to develop over the years and now has proposed a major new expansion.

Still, Snowbird uses just about a third of the water it is allotted under a contract negotiated in 1972 with the city.

Keith Hanson, water manager of the Salt Lake County area that services Snowbird, said the resort's contract allows it to receive one million gallons of water a day. The nearby town of Alta has a separate contract with Salt Lake City for 265,000 gallons a day.

And the contracts do not allow for water service outside the specific boundaries. So even though Cecret Lake, where Young wants to build, is within Alta town limits, it's outside the water contract boundaries.

"Salt Lake City holds all the cards," Guldner said. "We started off with less than a million people in all of Utah 25 years ago. Now there's a million in the Salt Lake valley alone. Salt Lake is saving the water for Salt Lake."

Guldner said the closest water line to Young's property is two miles away straight over a mountain, and even if he got water rights, building a connecting line would entail going over federal land -- which brings up an entire new set of issues, including environmental impact studies.

"Obviously you always have sympathy for people who are trying to get things accomplished," Niermeyer said. "But I also have an obligation to enforce our ordinance and to make sure a broader good will come of this."

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