MORGAN — Wasatch Peaks Ranch’s developers and a Morgan County citizens’ group are trading punches in court while work progresses on the 12,000-acre private ski and recreation resort.

Five residents are at the center of both cases as they pursue their effort to force a referendum vote on the development.

The county approved the development plan in late 2019 and work is underway on the project.

But after a district judge dismissed their referendum proposal in March, the five filed a state appeal.

Attorneys for the two sides have been filing documents with the Utah Court of Appeals in the case.

No hearing date has been set.

After the group filed the appeal, Wasatch Peaks sued the five referendum sponsors and a sixth person who helped them in the referendum fight, alleging they were maliciously harming its business interests.

That case is being fought before 2nd District Judge Noel Hyde in the Morgan court.

The development in the mountains west of Mountain Green and Peterson created a stir in 2019 when critics cited worries about environmental, economic and other impacts.

But the developers received approval in an agreement with the Morgan County Council, leading the five residents to file a referendum petition aiming to force a public vote.

The county denied the petition, saying it did not satisfy state law requirements. The residents hope the appeals court will overturn the county decision, possibly clearing the way for a referendum.

The effects of such an outcome are uncertain, but the developer’s suit against the residents indicates the seriousness of the issue.

The suit accuses the residents — Whitney Croft, Shelley Page, Robert Bohman, David Pike, Brandon Peterson and Cindy Carter — of conspiring to block the development by pursuing the “legally flawed” referendum.

The legal tie-ups forced a delay in a key round of equity financing of the private resort project and deterred additional investments, the resort company’s suit said, citing a loss of at least $5 million.

But attorneys for the residents since have filed documents urging Hyde to dismiss the suit because they say Wasatch Peaks has not presented evidence of any lost investments.

Further, they argue Utah’s Citizen Participation in Government Act protects citizens against lawsuits harassing defendants for participating in government.

“This litigation is intended to intimidate the defendants, chill their opposition and that of others, and not for a compelling governmental or legal purpose,” they said.

“Citizens seeking to stop or delay a development they oppose is not unlawful,” they said, adding that their efforts also are political speech protected by the First Amendment.

“Concerted action to influence public officials by lawful means generally does not give rise to liability for civil conspiracy even if it may have a negative impact on the interests of others,” the residents argue.

In its response to the residents’ dismissal motion, Wasatch Peaks among other things contends that the Citizen Participation in Government Act is unconstitutional.

The Wasatch Peaks filing says the act violates the open courts and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.

That unconstitutionality exists, the company argues, “to the extent it permits dismissal of a complaint ... solely on the basis that a complaint was brought for a particular purpose and without a determination that the complaint was without merit.”

The act also violates the jury trial right of the Utah Constitution “because it requires the trial court to invade the province of the jury by making preliminary determinations and resolving disputed issues of fact ... without a trial by jury,” Wasatch Peaks asserted.

You can reach reporter Mark Shenefelt at mshenefelt@standard.net or 801-625-4224. Follow him on Twitter at @mshenefelt.

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