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The City Journals

Draper City Council’s decision on Geneva Rock postponed indefinitely

Mar 23, 2020 04:16PM ● By Mimi Darley Dutton

By Mimi Darley Dutton | [email protected]

The Draper City Council finds itself between a rock and a hard place.

Residents voiced a cumulative, resounding “no” to Geneva Rock’s newest application for an expansion to their gravel and mining operations at the Point of the Mountain. The Feb. 27 planning commission/public hearing on Geneva ended with a unanimous negative recommendation by the city’s planning commission to the City Council. But the council risks losing any say in the matter because of House Bill 288, passed by the Utah Legislature in 2019 and signed by the governor, which allows the state to supersede local authority if Draper City and Geneva Rock cannot come to a mutually agreeable solution. HB 288 also restricts cities from initiating new regulations that limit mining operations. 

Draper City incorporated in 1978. Geneva Rock acquired 142 acres of property, located within the Draper City agricultural (A5) zone, in 1999. Geneva made and withdrew applications to Draper City in 2015 and again in 2018 to rezone acres of their property from A5 to mining (M2). In 2016, Geneva secured legal rights to continue extracting sand, gravel and rock, including 40 acres in the A5 zone.

This application from Geneva Rock is divided into four areas. Area 1 is approximately 43 acres the company would give to the city to protect as open space. Area 2 is approximately 21 acres the company proposes to protect as open space. Area 3 is about 50 acres that could be potentially developed in the future, and Area 4 is 27 acres the company seeks to mine.

City publications indicate, “the entire area of the Geneva Rock property identified in this application is located within the Hillside Sensitive Overlay Zone” and “is protected in city code to ensure urban development is guided in a manner that will protect scenic beauty and minimize the potential for flooding, erosion and other natural hazards.”

Dust and silica were frequently used words at the hearing. The wind at Point of the Mountain is the reason for the flight park’s location there, but it’s that same wind that many said blows the dust created by Geneva’s operation throughout the valley, especially concentrated in South Mountain and Draper.

Nile Brewer is a hang glider pilot. “I can’t justify giving them extra space, digging for another 20 years. We’re not asking them to go away, but to justify allowing them to expand…it’s more important to me to have the clear air. I’ve seen trails of dust being carried almost into downtown,” Brewer said.

Dr. Brian Moench and Jonny Vasic from Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment were in attendance. “Unique to mining and gravel is crystalline silica. Analogous to inhaling microscopic barbed wire, it leads to increased rates of lung cancer. Draper City should consider their first priority to be the health of residents, not what is best for Geneva’s profitability,” Moench said.

Vasic’s sister lives near the mine. “She’s fearful. There’s already so much dirt and dust in her house that she doesn’t open the window anymore. Who in their right mind would want to recreate there? We know this gravel pit couldn’t be in a worse area. The last thing we need is for them to expand,” he said.

Kris Olszewski said there’s pumice dust all over her house and she frequently has to change her furnace filters. “This is no different than me buying a commercial property zoned for two stories and asking the city for eight stories. In 40 years, that’s a whole mountain that has gone away. Mountains don’t grow back. In 40 years, Geneva has yet to revegetate,” Olszewski said.

South Mountain resident Neil McGarry said, “The conservation easement trade is simply not worth it.”

Numerous individuals approached the microphone to comment, including one woman who asked, “Do we want to be known as the city that turned down a homeless shelter but brought in mining?” She went on to encourage the planning commission to deny the application for the sake of doing what she called “the right thing.”

Parents and children also approached the microphone. Audrey Albrecht carried daughter Eisley, age 3, to tearfully address the planning commission. She said she fears getting lung cancer and she doesn’t take her daughter to the park because of pollution. “I want to stand up for my daughter because she’s not old enough to stand up here for herself. If I can’t breathe, what’s the point in living here?” she asked.

Former councilmember Alan Summerhays was the only person who spoke in favor of reaching an agreement with Geneva. “I think we have to make a deal here. I can just see the money people buying the legislature and then Draper getting the short end of the stick,” he said.

Planning Commissioner Mary Squire said, “This is the third time we’ve heard an application concerning mining. I would say the planning commission has led the charge to remove mining from the code as a use at all; for that we have been punished greatly. Geneva is sticking it to us for doing that. They have gone to the state. House Bill 288 was signed by the governor. We need to figure out how to approach this as a city. The state will step in, then we run the risk of all four of those areas being mined. Do not misunderstand my motive. We want a nice place to live here,” she said before casting her vote.

“Air quality has not gotten any better, it’s getting worse. I’m not here to say this is the best solution, but over time these negotiations are getting better,” said Planning Commission Chair Andrew Adams.

Dave Kallas is a spokesperson for Geneva Rock. “We’ve come back with a request that has 60% fewer acres for M2 zoning. Last time around we’d requested about 73 acres be rezoned for mining. After meeting with city officials, nearby residents and stakeholders and listening to concerns, we’ve come back with a request for only 27 acres. We feel like that helps address some of those concerns, including we have offered to designate well over 60 acres of open space. That’s property Geneva Rock owns, including 43 acres we will donate to the city. Our expectation is those 43 acres will be conserved, never developed and available for recreation or conservation activities,” he said.

Asked about dust mitigation, Kallas said, “Geneva Rock has a fugitive dust control plan and is regulated by the Utah Division of Air Quality. Currently we use many techniques within our control plan to mitigate dust and other emissions. We have recently invested over $30 million in new equipment and new facilities to reduce dust and emissions on our properties in the area including Draper, Bluffdale and Lehi where we have operations. It’s important for people to know that, in addition to mining or rezoning 27 acres, Geneva Rock is in the process of reclaiming over 50 acres in the same operation. Reclamation and re-use of the property begins today and will continue over the next 20-plus years. We would invite people to look at the master plan at www.GenevaRock.com/pom.

The City Council scheduled a special meeting on Geneva’s application, open to the public, for March 25. Subsequently, the city declared a State of Emergency March 12 and announced that City Council and other meetings will be postponed indefinitely.