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SALT LAKE CITY — As members of the Salt Lake County Council took in one last round of public comments, after having received over 1,000 in the past few months on an ordinance to ban mining and mineral extraction from forestry and recreation zones, Councilman Richard Snelgrove said he had seen enough.
"I received 248 emails on the subject — all opposed. Two hundred and forty to zero is about as lopsided as it gets," Snelgrove said, as he proposed the council pass the ordinance during a council meeting Tuesday.
The council agreed, unanimously passing the mining ban as a crowd of supporters of the ban applauded in the chamber.
The vote was delivered more than a week after the owner of land in Parleys Canyon announced plans to refile a permit for a small mine in the area. The backlash from the initial mine proposal, which was submitted last fall, is what originally inspired the call for the new ordinance against mining in forestry and recreation zones.
In a statement to KSL.com, a spokesman for the Salt Lake City-based Tree Farm, LLC, blasted the decision, saying it is in violation of a state law that prohibits ordinances that bar operations related to critical infrastructure materials.
They added there are "considering our next steps," which may include litigation or "direct public advocacy efforts to citizens and elected officials to address this problem openly and honestly."
Prior to the vote, members of the council listened for about 20 minutes as several people in favor of the ordinance spoke during a public comment period. It could have been much longer, but Salt Lake County Council Chairwoman Laurie Stringham set a timer after finding there was nobody in the room or online against the ordinance.
One by one, residents, environmental groups and representatives for communities near Parleys Canyon stepped up to the microphone — either in person or online — and spoke up against mining in the area, especially the proposed Parleys Canyon mine.
"This would destroy the Mount Aire Canyon," Amy Hemingway, a resident of Salt Lake City and a cabin owner in the Mount Aire Canyon area, told the council, holding up a printout of a photo of an old hotel in the canyon.
"I'm so against this mine with all my heart, mind and strength," she continued. "Aren't we sick, as a people, of having other people destroy our lands out of greed?"
Tree Farm contends the mine is important for extracting granite, limestone and trap rock needed for construction as the state continues to grow. It first filed two notices to mine on private land it owns in Parleys Canyon back in November. The first was for a small 20-acre operation, while the other was a much larger mine over 600 acres in size.
The two permit processes are handled differently. Small mine permits require no public process while large mines go through an extensive process involving the public. But since the two were filed at the same time, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining denied the small mine request because it determined Tree Farm could just move forward with the large mine process.
The company initially appealed that decision; however, it dropped that appeal during a Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining meeting on March 23. The board is scheduled to formally approve a motion to dismiss the appeal during a meeting later this month. Tree Farm, which has since teamed up with Granite Construction to operate the proposed mine, plans to refile only its small mining permit for now.
On Friday, the board also denied requests for either an emergency order preventing mining in Parleys Canyon or a moratorium placing a freeze on all mine applications.
"If given direction from the board on rulemaking, legislation, and/or cooperative agreements with sister agencies, the division will take all available action to develop regulations conducive to population growth and urban expansion," Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining wrote in a statement on the matter after Friday's decision.
As that continues to play out on a statewide scale, Salt Lake County began looking to ban mining in the canyon on a countywide scale. Residents and government officials railed against the mine during the first public meeting in the process, held by the Salt Lake County Mountainous Planning District on Feb. 4.
After a public comment period that unfolded much like Tuesday's, the commission ultimately adopted several reasons why it recommended a ban on mining in the canyon. They determined mining would increase air, dust and noise pollution, as well as wildfire risks, risks of avalanches and rockslides. They added it would also increase traffic and threaten protected watersheds, landscapes, water supply and wildlife habitat.
A few hours before Tuesday's meeting, Salt Lake County Mayor Jenny Wilson reiterated her support of the mining ban, urging the council to go ahead with the ordinance. She then celebrated the decision in a statement Tuesday evening.
"Active measures are necessary to protect our canyon environment and preserve recreation opportunities," her statement reads, in part. "Today, Salt Lake County took an active measure to prohibit future mining in the Wasatch range."
Other organizations also supported the council's vote. Lexi Tuddenham, the executive director of the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, added that the "carefully considered decision" from the council will prevent air quality concerns associated with the mine.
What happens next may be up to the courts.
Brent Bateman, representing Tree Farm, sent the council a letter Tuesday saying the ordinance is "blatantly contrary" to the law regarding critical infrastructure materials operations. Bateman previously sent the county a letter to Zachary Shaw with the Salt Lake County District Attorney's Office about the ordinance in February, also pointing to the section of state law.
A spokesman for Tree Farm added Tuesday that the decision demonstrates "disrespect for private property rights."
"This ordinance will affect the property rights of not only the potential mine owner, but of many others," the statement reads, in part. "Additionally, this process has sadly shed a light on another serious issue: the attempt by privileged individuals in our state to bend a legal process to their will, leaving lawful businesses without recourse."