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Group asks Forest Service to halt Snowbird project

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — An environmental group is asking the U.S. Forest Service to stop underway construction of a restaurant atop the 11,000-foot Hidden Peak.

The group Save Our Canyons says Snowbird Ski Resort has made significant changes to the plan since the Forest Service approved the project in 1999 and a new study is needed to review the possible environmental impacts before the project continues.

Cathy Kahlow, the Salt Lake District ranger for the Forest Service, said she was not able to comment on the request because her staff was still reviewing it.

"We're trying to understand what they feel is not correct and make a determination about whether they're right or not," she told The Salt Lake Tribune (http://bit.ly/1zS6qTH ).

Disputes over the proposed 23,000-square-foot ridgetop facility go back about 20 years, with Save Our Canyons arguing in 1995 that the structure would be visible from high points in nearby canyons and would clutter the mountaintop view.

Save Our Canyons Executive Director Carl Fisher said in a letter to the Forest Service this week that the resort has made a number of changes to its planned development over the years, including a 2010 proposal for a possible extension of a second aerial tram connecting Hidden Peak to the nearby American Fork Twin Peaks.

Fisher said if that tram is constructed, the mountaintop restaurant facility would serve as a hub for heading to backcountry terrain.

In addition to the restaurant, the facility would feature 360-degree views of the Wasatch Mountains, event space, a coffee shop and retail space, ski patrol headquarters and restrooms.

It would sit next to an existing tram terminal on top of Hidden Peak that ferries guests from the resort's base.

"Anyone who has ridden the tram to Hidden Peak realizes this is a much-needed facility to serve our year-round guests," Snowbird President Bob Bonar said.

Bonar said the proposal has already been through lengthy reviews and received its needed approvals.

Snowbird has begun excavation work for the building's foundation and hopes hope to open the restaurant and facility in the fall of 2015.

The resort still needs approval from Forest Service engineers before full construction of the facility gets underway. Kahlow said that should be completed soon.

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Information from: The Salt Lake Tribune, http://www.sltrib.com

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