PROVO — City councils in Provo and Cedar Hills voted Tuesday evening to pass resolutions to support the preservation of Bridal Veil Falls ahead of a county commission decision on a proposal that could lead to future development by the popular waterfall.
Utah County owns the land where the falls are located, which is about 3 miles from the mouth of Provo Canyon. The county's three commissioners are set to discuss a conservation easement for the falls next week that would block consideration of private development at the location.
While it's not on Provo or Cedar Hills land, Provo City Council leaders felt prompted to provide "a united voice of support" for a conservation easement, Provo City Council Chair George Handley explained during Tuesday's council meeting. That's because the waterfall is located on land adjacent to the city and it's along the route of the Provo River Trail, which connects the canyon to Utah Lake State Park with a route through the city.
"We think that privatizing it and thereby limiting public access and potentially causing some disruptions to the natural effects of the location and the aesthetic appreciation and value that it has in our community," he said. "We were concerned enough that we felt that we wanted to issue a resolution and actually also write a letter to the county commission to let them know our feelings about this."
The Cedar Hills City Council also passed a resolution "outlining the support for the preservation of Bridal Veil Falls" during a meeting Tuesday.
The Utah County Commission is scheduled to meet on Dec. 9 "to consider the disposal of an interest in real properties in public use and/or significant parcels of real property by granting a conservation easement and other uses on real properties owned by Utah County."
The county purchased the land in 2015 so the site could be preserved for years to come. As noted by the Daily Herald, there was development in the area prior to that purchase. That included an operational tram that existed from 1961 to 1996 until it was damaged by an avalanche. The remnants of the tram were removed in 2008 after a fire.
Just last year, the commission approved a concept plan to make the area safer and easier to access. But it's an area that's also garnered renewed interest in development, as well. The county nixed a pair of attempts to build a new tram in 2018.
Per public records, Richard Losee, founder of the Cirque Lodge Drug and Alcohol Addiction Recovery Center, is eying development on the land that will be discussed next week. The plan would include a new aerial tram and a lodge on the land at the top of the falls.
In an email to the commission sent in August, Losee invited the commissioners to a meeting with him and an architecture firm to view conceptual drawings of the proposed new tram with "a plan to engage the public."
"This should prove to be a wonderful synthesis of the public and private sectors working together for the enjoyment and betterment of the whole," he wrote in the email dated Aug. 26.
Meanwhile, Utah County Commissioner Nathan Ivie is expected to propose a conservation easement during the Dec. 9 meeting. If passed, it would cease any projects from being built on the land. Utah County Commissioner Tanner Ainge told KSL NewsRadio on Tuesday that he would support that measure.
"This is a landmark of Utah Valley, so I think we can enhance the experience for the public," Ainge said. "It's universal support for preserving and enhancing for public use. People don't want to see development on the top of Bridal Veil Falls."
Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee issued a statement Wednesday afternoon in which he said that protecting the waterfalls for public use was his "guiding principle."
"That's why two years ago I rejected a proposal that would have privatized partial use of the property surrounding the Falls. Last year, I voted in favor of $900,000 worth of improvements to the Bridal Veil Falls property," his statement continued. "These improvements help ensure the safety of visitors to the Falls while providing important amenities, such as bathrooms and adequate parking. I reject any plans to sell some or all of the Bridal Veil Falls property.
"For me, the preservation of the falls for safe public use will always be a top priority," he added. "I view Bridal Veil Falls as one of the crown jewels of Utah County, and I will continue to do what I can to protect it for the enjoyment of all.
It was clear during the Provo City Council meeting that all of its members were on the same page in their effort to persuade the commission to approve a conservation easement for Bridal Veil Falls. Officials said they had not heard any feedback in support of development in the few days of hearing from the public.
City Councilmember Bill Fillmore was among those who "wholeheartedly" supported the idea to preserve the land.
"It preserves our most valued and pristine sites in Utah County — all of the state of Utah, forever," he said. "I think if we did an instantaneous poll of our citizens, we'd have overwhelming support for that."
Councilmember Shannon Ellsworth, who works as an environmental planner, pointed out that she helped craft Utah County policies on natural resources as a part of her job a few years ago. It's why she also strongly supported the easement.
"This kind of conservation and preservation of a recreational space is in line with the policies they outlined in their own documents in 2016 and 2017," she said.
The language of the Cedar Hills resolution offered similar sentiments. Officials wrote that they acknowledged the value of protecting the natural environment for Cedar Hills residents and outside visitors now and also for future generations.
The also resolution noted that Bridal Veil Falls "is unparalleled in its natural beauty."
"The preservation of Bridal Veil Falls in its natural state for its scenic beauty for the enjoyment of this and future generations is invaluable, and any loss to access by the public will have a detrimental effect on the quality of life enjoyed by those who use and visit and area," the resolution stated.
The Utah County Commission discussion about the Bridal Veil Falls is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Dec. 9. Utah County Commission meetings can be streamed live on the county's YouTube page.
Contributing: Kelli Pierce and Paul Nelson, KSL NewsRadio