On Thursday evening, the two Park City mayoral candidates briefly addressed the closely related issues of drought and the threat of wildfires, offering broad comments on the topic at a forum focused on environmental issues.
A group called the Citizens’ Climate Lobby organized the forum, which was held online, and questions for outgoing Mayor Andy Beerman and his challenger, Park Councilor Nann Worel, focused on topics that many see it as crucial to the long-term long-term future of the community.
Both Beerman and Worel see themselves as figures who support broad action to tackle climate change, which is included in the town hall’s work plan. There are fears at City Hall and elsewhere in Park City that climate change could one day threaten the ski industry which is boosting the local economy. The event, meanwhile, came two months after the Parleys Canyon fire ravaged more than 500 acres off Interstate 80 near the Snyderville Basin and forced evacuations in several neighborhoods in Basin, a fire which further highlighted the wildfire danger for Park City.
In response to a question about drought and the risk of wildfires, Beerman and Worel made limited comments. However, the responses were among the highlights of the event, as the two touched on a topic that has not been regularly addressed over the years in mayoral campaigns.
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,” said the mayor. He said conservation measures are a starting point and explained that city hall rules could be changed to support drought-tolerant landscaping.
Worel told the public online that she wanted to organize a community fire drill that would help prepare for the possibility of a wildfire forcing people to leave 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 removing vegetation that could be particularly problematic in 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 are not English speakers.
The two also addressed issues related to the environmental impact of the tourism industry. City Hall grapples with the topic, which essentially covers all of the dominant 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 operated an eco-friendly hotel. He said focusing on public transport, including electrically powered buses, is a 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.
Town Hall’s far-reaching environmental programs, covered by the general ideal of sustainability, have over the years garnered strong support from a population that sees itself as respectful of the environment. Environmental topics aren’t usually touchy topics during city hall campaigns, as candidates over the years have generally agreed on their importance.
Park’s three city council candidates also appeared at the event on Thursday. Some highlights included:
• Jeremy Rubell recognizes that environmental programs are expensive and the costs must be clear.
• Outgoing city councilor Tim Henney told the audience that there are people in the community who question climate change, sometimes referred to as climate deniers.
• Tana Toly wants the focus to be on green initiatives for businesses.