SALT LAKE COUNTY

Critics continue opposition to Parleys Canyon quarry proposal

Apr 22, 2024, 1:30 PM

parleys canyon quarry as it looks now...

The Kilgore gravel pit in Parleys Canyon, taken from a Kilgore Companies Facebook post. (https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=858889234827016&set=pcb.858889278160345)

(https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=858889234827016&set=pcb.858889278160345)

PARLEYS CANYON, Utah – Controversy over a proposed gravel and limestone quarry in Parleys Canyon continues, months after two attempts to legalize the mine died in the 2024 legislative session.

This winter, lawmakers launched two bills that would have intervened in an ongoing legal fight between a private landowner and Salt Lake County. The bills would have effectively blocked the County from banning mines in its own jurisdiction.

Sponsors of the two bills this past legislative session tell KSL they encountered huge waves of resistance. Opponents ranged from Salt Lake Valley government leaders to environmental groups. Supporters included other government leaders and those who argue the quarry is necessary to keep up with growth. 

Neither bill passed in its original form.

Earlier this month, opponents of the plans once again raised their objections over the potential impact to air quality, wildlife and water quality from a 20-acre quarry.

Growth concerns vs. Environmental issues

Opponents and advocates of the mine disagree less about the general need for an aggregate quarry and more about where to put it.

For critics, the 11-acre gravel pit that already sits next to I-80 in Parleys Canyon gives a glimpse into what a pit at least double that size could look like.

“In the scenario where we do have a 600-plus acre gravel pit, you can expect to see hundreds of acres of land disturbed,” said Katie Balakir, a policy associate with Save our Canyons.

Balakir refers to property owner Jesse Lassley’s 2021 mining requests for a 20-acre and 634-acre parcel. The larger application would be 57 times bigger than the current quarry in Parley’s Canyon.

The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining (DOGM) rejected the smaller mine request to focus on the “large mine” proposal. In Utah, larger mines undergo a more rigorous process of public comment and state vetting than “small mine” designations.

Related: Mining company responds to concerns about its plans at Great Salt Lake

Another member of Save Our Canyons argues that the current 11-acre pit affects far more than 11 acres.

“The existing gravel pit in Parleys Canyon has disturbed 67 acres,” Spencer Shaver said.

On the other hand, Rep. Casey Snider, R-Paradise, said Utah sorely needs aggregate material from mines like this to keep up with our exponential growth. He ran a bill in the 2024 legislative session that would open the door for a mine up Parleys Canyon.

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

Home and road construction projects use aggregate materials for various applications, including concrete and asphalt.

The tug-of-war becomes this: Mine supporters say Utah needs aggregate material to build its freeways, housing and that new school down your street. Additionally, this location puts the material close to the demand. But critics argue the location of this mine puts communities like Millcreek and Salt Lake City at risk of particulate pollution in the air and water.

Air quality concerns

Other environmentalists point to air quality concerns as a key reason to avoid putting a mine in Parleys Canyon.

“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 of anti-quarry group Save Parleys Canyon. “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.”

Granite Construction, the California-based mining company that could develop the pit in the future, said on its website for the proposed quarry that it will “meet all federal, state, and local air quality standards.”

The company also says using aggregates from a quarry farther away would do more harm to the environment.

“Failing to develop new, local aggregate sources will have serious consequences,” Granite said on the quarry website. “Materials will need to be transported longer distances, increasing air emissions, road wear, and fuel use.”

Access to water and controlling dust

Critics also took issue with the second part of Snider’s original bill. It initially called for counties and cities to provide water to mining projects.

“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, a two-mile trek.

One use for the water could be to keep what regulators and researchers call “fugitive dust” on the ground. According to the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ), the term refers to “particles of soil, ash, coal, minerals, etc., which [become] airborne because of wind or mechanical disturbance.”

Fugitive dust is not necessarily toxic, but the EPA says it contains particles that can enter the lungs and bloodstream and potentially cause health problems after prolonged exposure. These include aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, cardiovascular disease and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).

Granite Construction says on its website for the I-80 Parleys quarry that it will create and implement a “fugitive dust control plan,” which will include applying water to “surface soils” and “unpaved roads.” This is common practice at similar mines, where water trucks spray down the traffic area to keep dust down.

The EPA calls watering the least expensive solution but says it is only temporary.

construction truck spraying water on dirt

This stock image, used by the Mine Safety Institute, shows a water truck spraying dirt to keep down dust. (Adobe Stock Image)

On the website for the quarry proposal, Granite points out the quarry’s location, below the water treatment plant, would prevent it from affecting the watershed. The company also says our drinking water comes from 1.5 miles upstream of the project. It does not address where Granite would get the water.

What happened during the legislative session

The legislature considered two bills during the 2024 session that could have allowed a new aggregate mine up Parleys Canyon: HB502 and SB172

As originally proposed, HB502 would have prevented a city or county from banning mining on its land past Dec. 31, 2024, in most cases.

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

In 2022, Salt Lake County passed an ordinance to do the exact thing HB502 would prevent: The county banned mining operations in the foothills, including Parleys Canyon.

About a month later, Tree Farm LLC, the initial developer behind the mine proposal, filed a lawsuit against the Salt Lake County Council. The company belongs to Jesse Lassley, who owns the land.

KSL NewsRadio attempted to connect with Lassley but received no response.

Lassley’s company later ceded development responsibility to Granite Construction.

Historic mining rights vs. county bans

The other bill, SB172, would have blocked counties from banning mining operations in their territory if a property had already been mined.

Sen. David Hinkins, R-Ferron, told KSL NewsRadio this bill was about preserving job opportunities for rural Utahns.

“We’re just trying to make sure the historical, patented mining rights are not being violated by a lot of encroachment, because you know a lot of these minerals haven’t been accessed for fifty to a hundred years,” said Hinkins. “We’re trying to, especially in rural Utah, to create jobs and to… do the green energy plan that everybody’s wanting to go to.”

However, Hinkins said he found an unexpected wave of resistance to his bill. He dropped the legislation when it went to the House Rules Committee in early February.

“I had no idea there’d be that much pushback on [the bill], and leadership’s not really crazy about it,” said Hinkins. “And so if things turn back to dirt roads, I guess that’s what happens.”

It never appeared for a vote.

Related: Public comment period approved for quarry in Parleys Canyon

Critics of the bill argue it would have undermined city and county authority over their own jurisdictions.

“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,” said Jeff Silvestrini, mayor of Millcreek.

Rep. Doug Owens, D-Millcreek, opposed a similar bill in 2023. He told KSL NewsRadio this one would also have taken away zoning rights from the local level.

“I think local entities need to be able to zone properly so people can preserve their property values and their way of life,” said Owens. “We can’t have mines popping up in the middle, or right on the doorstep of a million and a half people, [in the Salt Lake Valley]. So I support Salt Lake County’s ability to maintain its zoning ability.”

A Parleys Canyon quarry compromise

Snider altered his bill in the final days of the 2024 legislative session, turning it into a study instead of a ban.

“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 at a committee hearing.

Silvestrini welcomed the changes with open arms.

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

Neither the changed version of HB502 nor the failure of SB172 will affect the ongoing lawsuit between property owner Lassley and the Salt Lake County Council.

KSL NewsRadio reached out for comment to Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson, Salt Lake County Councilwoman Dea Theodore and Salt Lake County Council Chair Laurie Stringham. Mayor Wilson and Councilwoman Theodore declined to comment; Chair Stringham did not respond.

The future of Parleys Canyon

Owens said there are plenty of alternative locations for an aggregate mine.

“This is limestone that [Granite Construction is] after, which makes up most of the whole Wasatch Range, so there’s lots and lots of places to put this,” Owens said. “Then the question is, do you want to put it right where it’s going to destroy the historic community [of Mount Aire], right where it’s going to affect the air quality of a million people?…. In my district people wake up in certain weather patterns, and they’ve got limestone dust from the existing quarry all over their cars in the morning.”

photo of parleys canyon quarry as it exists now

The entrance to the Kilgore pit coming from Quarry Road next to I-80. (Peter Johnston/KSL NewsRadio)

A 2023 pilot study conducted by a University of Utah PhD candidate in geology and geophysics and funded by the city of Millcreek, appears to corroborate Owens’s claim that much of the dust entering Millcreek blew in from the existing gravel quarry up Parleys.

It compared dust samples from the current Kilgore gravel quarry in Parleys Canyon and the side of a shed in the Canyon Park neighborhood in Millcreek, analyzing how many isotopes of the element Strontium appeared in both.

There was an approximate 60.35% match between the samples. The researchers concluded that means most dust sampled from the shed came from the Kilgore mine.

In defense of the Parleys Canyon quarry

However, a group advocating for the mine in Parley’s Canyon named Work Right Utah said communities protesting the quarry are asking for conditions that other communities have not received.

“They show us that the Southwest part of Salt County is growing really fast,” said a video on the Work Right Utah website, “right at the foot of the largest man-made excavation in the world [Bingham Copper Mine]. So, a 20-acre quarry by the freeway to Park City is the end of civilization. But the fastest growth in Salt Lake County is right next to the biggest open-pit mine on Earth?”

Sen. Nate Blouin, D-Salt Lake City, claimed the 20-acre mine is just a foot in the door to achieve Lassley’s vision of a much larger quarry.

“It would start at 20 acres,” said Blouin. “I mean, these bills create a path for expanding that… not exponentially, but very significantly.”

Work Right Utah said the concern about future expansions to the 20-acre mine is deceptive.

“[Mine opponents] keep saying, ‘the 634-acre mine,’ when they know that’s a lie,” said a video on the Work Right Utah website. “634 acres is the whole parcel. The mine application is for 20 acres, 20 acres does not equal 634, no matter how many times they say it.”

Work Right Utah is correct that the current mine application moving through court is for 20 acres. However, the 634-acre mine proposal was part of a separate application for a “large mine” status operation in 2021 that Lassley withdrew the following year.

What Granite Construction says

KSL NewsRadio contacted Granite Construction to ask if it had considered other locations for an aggregate quarry. The company responded with the following statement:

Granite is committed to environmental compliance and has the resources and experience to operate the I-80 Project in a manner that will make it an asset to the Salt Lake Valley community. Through its acquisition of Gibbons and Reed in 1995, Granite has been active in Utah since 1915. The Salt Lake Valley requires construction materials to meet society’s demands for infrastructure—especially affordable housing and efficient transportation. If those sources of construction materials are not located near the area of utilization, aggregates will need to be shipped longer distances at greater expense. Additionally, this will increase the taxpayer’s expense for critical infrastructure.

More Parleys Canyon quarry reaction

Not all local leaders have negative things to say about Granite. Kelvyn Cullimore, Cottonwood Heights Mayor from 2005 to 2017, endorsed Granite on its website. He said:

From the time I was first elected Mayor in 2004, we had significant interactions with Granite Construction relative to the gravel pit in Cottonwood Heights. I came to appreciate the transparent business culture and the integrity with which Granite conducted business. I was grateful as a community leader that Granite was always respectful of not just city concerns, but citizen concerns. Their willingness to work with our community allowed us to mitigate in material ways some of the detrimental impacts of the gravel pit operations. Granite’s transparency allowed us to build trust and dialogue that led to real solutions to problems. The corporate culture of Granite has, in my experience, always showed concern for community and the impacts your operations may have now and in the future.

However, Salt Lake City Utilities Director Briefer and Silvestrini said Granite had not responded to invitations to meet and discuss concerns about the mine’s location.

“[Salt Lake City Mayor] Erin Mendenhall and I have written a letter to them,” said Silvestrini, “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.”

For now, no mining development can happen on Lassley’s land while the lawsuit against Salt Lake County’s ban moves through the courts.

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Critics continue opposition to Parleys Canyon quarry proposal