SALT LAKE CITY — A state legislator hopes to make Bridal Veil Falls a state monument after a developer's proposal to build an aerial tram and lodge there became public late last year.
Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, is proposing a bill to give the popular waterfalls the designation to help preserve it for future generations and add safety resources and utilities like bathrooms and better parking.
The Utah Legislature paved the way to do so in 2019 through the State Monuments Act, Stratton noted.
"There are several real jewels in our state that are not really well-suited for a state park," Stratton said.
"Bridal Veil Falls is also an upper and lower waterfall — a beautiful, spectacular system of falls," Stratton said. The monument designation would require the Utah County Commission in the future to "represent residents" with how it handles the land, he said.
The bill comes after controversy in December over the future of the roughly 22 acres around the falls owned by the county.
After public outcry at the possibility of the owner of Cirque Lodge, a well-known drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, building an aerial tram and lodge at the top of the falls, the commission voted to place the land in a conservation easement.
Under the easement, the land is now managed by Utah Open Lands, an accredited land trust that will provide stewardship over the property. The county retained ownership of the land.
This week, Cirque Lodge owner Richard Losee filed a lawsuit against Utah County for that decision. Losee alleges the conservation easement was a violation of county code, and he seeks to have it invalidated.
"There is no need for the county to deed such an easement to a third party as the county is already fully capable of 'conserving' the Bridal Veil Falls property at essentially no cost to the public," attorneys for Losee wrote in the lawsuit filed Wednesday in 4th District Court.
"The only reason for granting such an easement was to prevent a future board of county commissioners from allowing some other use of the Bridal Veil Falls property," according to the lawsuit.
After Losee learned of the county's plans to deed the land in a conservation easement, he offered to lease or buy a small amount of the property for more than the county originally paid for it, the complaint alleges.
Losee's proposal "included using small portions of the total Bridal Veil Falls property for a base and top station for a tram that would be made available to the public to enjoy the scenery at reasonable prices and for a parking lot at the base," attorneys wrote.
The developer alleges that after a public hearing on the issue on Dec. 9, he and county commissioners were "bombarded by misrepresentations (to put it kindly) and vicious personal attacks" about the project.
The county bypassed rules that govern the transfer of property with significant value when it voted for the easement, according to the complaint.
"On information and belief, the commission has attempted to assert that the Bridal Veil Falls property is a 'surplus property' in an apparent effort to avoid statutory disposition requirements," the lawsuit states.
Stratton said that should Losee win his lawsuit, the state monument designation would add a further layer of protection for the land against commercial development.
"A state monument does prevent — it's like a state park — in terms of doing things that help it be a world class venue in terms of safety and having bathrooms and good parking and so forth, it allows all that. But in terms of a commercial development, that would not be consistent with a state monument anywhere," he said.
Should the conservation easement stand, Stratton said it would align with the state monument designation. The bill will also include an appropriations request, the funding of which could come from one-time state budget surplus.
Utah County Commissioner Bill Lee declined to comment on the lawsuit Friday, stating he can't comment on pending litigation.
"What the county did in granting the conservation easement to Utah Open Lands was to codify the will of the people," Wendy Fisher, executive director of the Utah Open Lands, said Friday.
She also declined to comment further due to the pending litigation.