ENVIRONMENT

Polluting dust and a growing city: how a proposed mine in Parleys Canyon could change the Salt Lake Valley

Feb 23, 2024, 7:40 AM | Updated: Feb 26, 2024, 4:34 pm

Two bills currently in the legislature could pave the way for a mine in Parley's Canyon....

Two bills currently in the legislature could pave the way for a mine in Parley's Canyon. (Peter Johnston)

(Peter Johnston)

PARLEYS CANYON, Utah –If you’ve driven up I-80 Eastbound, you might have seen the gravel pit on your left: big gray mounds of dirt, maybe the occasional house-sized bulldozer.

That quarry is 11 acres. There could be a quarry at least double that size coming to Parleys soon.

“Because there’s enough wind that it blows all the dust down into the Salt Lake Valley,” said Sam Dunham a property owner near the proposed mine and a supporter for Save Parleys Canyon.

“So, they can claim they’re in compliance when all they’re doing is dumping their waste in the wind stream that scatters over the Salt Lake Valley.”

Researchers say the dust of any such mine would contain toxins that could get in the water and even melt snow faster.

However, there’s a big need for mines like this, according to State Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise who is one of the lawmakers running bills that would open the door for mining operations in Parleys.

“The reality is that when we do not have places to mine aggregates close to the centers of construction and urbanization. It costs more. Prices of homes go up, prices of roads go up and we’re rapidly outpacing with demand our supply.”

The tug-of war becomes this: Utah needs aggregate material to build its freeways, housing, and that new school down your street.  And, this location is close to the demand. But communities like Millcreek and Salt Lake City could be breathing and drinking particulates from this mine for years to come.

Parley's Canyon Quarry

(Peter Johnston, KSL NewsRadio)

The legislature and the lawsuit

There are two bills in the legislature that could pave the way for a mine in Parleys Canyon.

HB502, that has caught the eye of Parleys watchers, would stop a city or county from banning mining on its land past Dec. 31 in most cases. 

“Folks ask me or write to me and say that you’re doing this for Parleys. I don’t know any of the background. I haven’t engaged on that issue,” said Snider.

“What I am looking at is the reality that we don’t have enough material to provide the same level of economic construction [and] economic services that we’ve had in the past. I want to fix that problem and move forward.”

However, the bill would have a direct impact on Salt Lake County, which passed an ordinance in 2022 to prevent any mining operation in its foothills, which includes Parley’s Canyon. Now they are facing a lawsuit from the man who owns the proposed mining lands.

The other part of the bill also requires something of counties and cities.

“The meaning of this in a nutshell is that this bill could potentially require Salt Lake City to provide water outside of its water service area to this proposed mine,” said Salt Lake City Public Utilities Director, Laura Briefer.

The mining operator — California-based Granite Construction — says on their website they plan to routinely spray the quarry with water to keep dust down.

The other bill, SB172, would protect any land that has been historically mined or will be mined from city or county restrictions.

Millcreek Mayor Jeff Silvestrini is against both bills.

“These bills are bad because they preempt local control, and they would basically favor a special interest here to put a mine where it doesn’t belong.” he said.

In a statement, Granite Construction said this is an important location for the Utah taxpayer because “if sources of construction materials are not located near the area of utilization, aggregates will need to be shipped longer distances at greater expense.”

A compromise comes to the table

Snider’s bill, HB502 would have stopped counties from banning mining operations like Parleys. However, Snider has turned his bill into a study about the effects of mining with the help of local governments and industry groups.

“We will look at the first sub. What I have created is hopefully a process where we can with sound science and data working with the Department of Natural Resources, analyze the materials that exist and some of the limitations on these materials,” said Snider.

One of the biggest critics of Snider’s bill was Millcreek Mayor Silvestrini. However, he welcomed the changes.

“This is an excellent idea. I’m supportive of the bill. And once again, I can’t thank the sponsor enough for being willing to listen to these concerns,” he said at a committee meeting.

This compromise does not erase the lawsuit against Salt Lake County over its mining ban.

The future of Parley’s Canyon

The other relevant bill, SB172 has new sponsor but also got pulled from Friday’s committee agenda. 

There are some skeptics, however. 

“Nobody’s in charge,” said BYU ecohydrologist Ben Abbott. “[Is] Somebody overseeing all this and making sure that nothing bad happens?”

But this compromise does show a promising way forward.

As for California-based Granite Construction, KSL NewsRadio has received a general statement but no reply to the question about potential alternate locations for an aggregate mine. Mayor Silvestrini has yet to hear from them as well. 

“Erin Mendenhall and I have written a letter to them asking to meet with them and their environmental committee, just to show them this location and show them why this is a bad idea. They have so far not agreed to meet with us.”

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Polluting dust and a growing city: how a proposed mine in Parleys Canyon could change the Salt Lake Valley