Salt Lake City – Carpenter Express Takes Off Dropped anchor in Deer Valley on Christmas Eve, The resort was quick to explain what happened.
A recently replaced component failed, a resort manager told reporters, functioning much like a car’s drive shaft. The resort also filed a written report with the Passenger Ropeway Safety Commission, Utah’s agency that regulates chair lifts and gondolas. It is a division of the State Department of Transportation.
But when FOX 13 News asked the agency for its Deer Valley coverage, it declined the request.
This begins a months-long process that appears to have changed UDOT policy.
In Utah, ski lifts and gondolas transport millions of people each year. Accidents are rare. In the case of the Carpenter Express, 167 skiers had to be lowered to the ground. No one was hurt.
According to national regulations, lift and cable car operators are expected to file reports quickly after accidents or breakdowns.
“In Utah, the ski industry represents about a $1.5 billion industry,” said Michael Kaplan, a Park City resident who teaches ski resort management at the university, in favor of such a report.
“Of course it is in the national interest not to make any accident public,” he added.
In its initial written refusal to FOX 13 News, UDOT cited a provision in the state’s motor vehicle code that exempts accident reports from public disclosure.
When the station appealed, UDOT director Carlos Braceras again denied the record’s release. Braceras wrote, “…knowing that an accident report will become a public record may lead ropeway operators to avoid telling the whole story or not file a report at all.”
FOX 13 News appealed — this time to the National Records Board. It is a public body that hears disputes between requesters and government agencies.
“Giving the public access to these incident reports could have a chilling effect on the information that ski resorts report after an accident,” Utah Assistant Attorney General Brook McCarrick told the committee.
The station argues that philosophy is not codified in state law. In addition, some states, including California, Colorado and Michigan, made such reports public and included descriptions of the injuries sustained.
The committee reviewed Deer Valley’s record on camera.
When the committee returned to public meetings, Member Nancy Dean said she found problems with the way UDOT was classifying records.
“To me, it looks more like an incident or investigation report; not so much an accident report,” she said.
In some cases, the Commission may find that the record is properly classified as exempt from release, but may order release of the record if it is in the public interest. The committee voted to do the same.
“The equipment malfunctioned and was fixed,” member Mary Cornwall said. “The public needs to know that.”
The committee voted unanimously to order UDOT to provide records to FOX 13 News. Both parties can choose to appeal again in state court.
However, UDOT provided the record to FOX 13 News. An accompanying letter from Braceras said that from now on, UDOT would not consider such reports to be “protected.”
In other words, the public will be able to obtain reports on ski lift accidents and breakdowns.
If you need help requesting public records from state or local government or appealing a denial, click here to find legal copies, templates, and an ombudsman who can answer your questions.