DRAPER — The city of Draper will restrict future mining operations in the wake of a controversial proposal to expand a local gravel pit that many said would lead to dangerous levels of pollution.
At the end of October, the City Council unanimously voted to approve a resolution that would end mining expansion in the city but would not affect the legal rights of any current mining operations, according to a news release on the city’s website.
“Our city is growing and changing. It is incumbent upon us to make prudent decisions that protect the health and well-being of our residents, support economic opportunities, and improve air quality,” said Mayor Troy Walker in the statement. “We have heard loud and clear from our residents and our business community that expanding mining operations within the city limits is inconsistent with these values.”
The move came after construction services company Geneva Rock proposed a rezone that would allow the company to grow a gravel pit by 73 acres at the Point of the Mountain. Geneva Rock said the proposed extension would provide the city with materials to construct new roads, houses and other buildings, but many in the community feared it would contribute to dangerous levels of pollution.
Brian Moench, board president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, as well as a few doctors and about 40 residents, gathered at a town hall meeting in September to discuss how the expansion of the gravel pit would affect the health of residents in the city and surrounding areas, as well as property values.
Moench said about 1,000 to 2,000 Utah deaths are caused every year by pollution, and cities along the Wasatch Front already rank in the top 10 worst cities in the U.S. for "acute spikes in particulate pollution," Moench added.
Ultrafine particles created by gravel pits are extremely damaging, he explained. And the smaller the particle, the more biological damage it can do.
Crystalline silicon, a type of pollution caused by rock mining, is like "microscopic specks of barbed wire,” Moench said.
The pollution causes the same diseases that are associated with smoking, including heart attacks, strokes, acceleration of aging, cancer, brain diseases and sudden death, Moench said, and high levels of air pollution cause pregnancy complications at higher rates.
Before the City Council voted on the proposal, however, more than 100 residents packed the Draper City Council Chambers to voice their concerns, only to find out that Geneva Rock decided to change their proposal in response to the public criticism.
Instead of expanding 73 acres, their modified proposal requested an expansion of only 18.5 acres.
"This is a significant reduction. But in addition to that, what we have done is we have identified 22 acres in our currently permitted property that we will reseed. It's exposed land, it's exposed to the wind and it's disturbed from mining. … We would go and reseed those 22 acres, which would help reduce the total overall exposed area," said Geneva Rock spokesman Dave Kallas.
Instead of voting on the new terms of the proposal, the City Council asked Geneva Rock to withdraw their current application and start the application process over again. Kallas said Geneva will draw up its revised request and submit a new application in the "near future."
Now, the city wants to restrict mining altogether.
“While we strive to be good neighbors to all businesses currently operating in our city, we recognize that we must also be responsible stewards of our natural environment and preserve important open space for current and future generations,” Walker said in the statement.