The two Park City mayoral candidates briefly touched on the intertwined issues of drought and the threat of wildfires on Thursday evening, offering broad commentary on the topic during a forum centered on environmental issues.
A group called Citizens’ Climate Lobby organized the forum, which was held online, and questions to incumbent Mayor Andy Beerman and his challenger, Park Councilwoman Nann Worel, covered topics that many see as crucial to the long-term future of the community.
Both Beerman and Worel see themselves as figures who support major measures to combat climate change, which is included in the town hall’s work plan. City Hall and elsewhere in Park City fear that climate change could one day threaten the ski industry that drives the local economy. The event, meanwhile, came two months after the Parleys Canyon Fire tore through more than 500 acres off Interstate 80 near Snyderville Basin and forced evacuations in several neighborhoods in the basin, a fire which further shed light on the danger of wildfire for Park City.
In response to a question about drought and the risk of wildfires, Beerman and Worel offered limited comment. The responses were among the highlights of the event, however, as the two touched on a topic that hasn’t been consistently raised in City Hall campaigns over the years.
Beerman said it appears the drought has become persistent and “increasingly problematic.” His thought is to “approach each day as if it were a drought,” the mayor said. He said conservation measures are a starting point and explained that town hall rules could be changed to support drought-resistant landscaping.
Worel told the online hearing that she wanted to hold a community fire drill that would help prepare for the possibility of a wildfire forcing people out of Park City. She said Park City needs to “make sure people know what they’re supposed to be doing.”
Beerman continued that Park City could be more aggressive in reducing wildfire fuels, which typically involves clearing vegetation that could be particularly problematic in the event of a fire. Worel added that the emergency response to the Parleys Canyon fire went well, but said a lesson learned during the emergency was the need to disseminate information to people who do not speak English.
Both also addressed issues related to the environmental impact of the tourism industry. City Hall wrestles with the topic, which essentially covers all of the mainstream industry in the community.
The mayor acknowledged that visitors to Park City may or may not share the same community values and noted that he operates an eco-friendly hotel. He said the focus on mass transit, including electric-powered buses, is one step.
Worel said the town hall needs to work with others because the city government cannot solve the problem on its own. She said the Sundance Film Festival is a good partner on environmental issues.
City Hall’s far-reaching environmental programs, covered by the overarching ideal of sustainability, have garnered strong support over the years from a population that sees itself as environmentally conscious. Environmental topics aren’t usually touchy issues when campaigning for town hall, as candidates over the years have generally agreed on their importance.
All three candidates for Park City Council also participated in the event on Thursday. Some highlights included:
• Jeremy Rubell acknowledging that environmental programs are expensive and the costs need to be clear.
• Outgoing City Councilor Tim Henney told the audience that there are members of the community who question climate change, sometimes known as climate deniers.
• Tana Toly wants the focus to be on green initiatives for businesses.