State approves road upgrade for Parleys Quarry project

A controversial limestone quarry proposed for Parleys Canyon has yet to be approved, but project developers have already received approval from state highway officials to conduct road upgrades across state land.

Preliminary construction of the road was scheduled to begin Thursday, before objections from nearby residents prompted the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) to insist that Granite Construction halt work.

Without notifying neighboring property owners, the county, or residents of nearby Mt. Aire, UDOT Granite issued an “intervention permit” on October 31 authorizing the company and property owner Tree Farm LLC to clear the road leading to the hills and Canyons leads proposed to fence and widen for I-80 South Quarry. The plan would block access to land used by Mt. Aire Canyon homeowners to park their snow machines, potentially preventing them from accessing their cabins during the winter.

The move angered Mt. Aire residents and property owners, who have not been informed or consulted about Granite’s plans to close access to the dirt road that runs parallel to the east lanes of the freeway, according to resident Freddie Stromness.

“I believe [Tree Farm principal] Jesse Lassley has now directed his anger at the Mount Aire community for defying him and is seeking all available avenues to hurt the community,” said Stromness, who runs the association that maintains the narrow winding road, used by residents of the 100 Cabins in Mount Aire Canyon. This community and the proposed quarry share an access point at the mouth of this Parleys side canyon at exit 132 of Interstate 80.

UDOT Regional Director Robert Stewart acknowledged that the approval should have been handled differently.

“I really regret that. If this were a UDOT project, we would go out and search the neighborhoods and talk to interested stakeholders and develop a plan with them,” Stewart said. “When it comes to an intervention permit, it is not part of the overall procedure. That’s not typical, but to be honest it should have been. We return with the contractor to return to the drawing board to find a solution that meets all the needs of those involved.”

Lassley’s publicist said Tree Farm was following standard UDOT permitting process and acknowledged that the quarry operator’s plan would cause inconvenience to Mount Aire residents.

“Any road improvements that would prevent parking are being postponed until spring to ensure landowners in Mount Aire have time to make the necessary parking adjustments while they use this area throughout the winter,” said publicist Matt Lusty.

The UDOT-owned road in question leads to a 634-acre property that Lassley acquired in 2020. He later worked with Granite to build and operate the quarry on the property while he and his attorneys orchestrate legal maneuvers against Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City to clear a path for the quarry to meet stiff opposition, but supported by some developers and their allies in the legislature.

The site is approximately three miles above Salt Lake City’s Parleys and the Millcreek foothills neighborhoods.

County officials fear the mine would affect scenic and natural qualities enjoyed by thousands of residents and visitors. Surrounding towns oppose the mine because it can release dust emissions and affect groundwater. Salt Lake City has moved to bar mine advocates from accessing the city-controlled water rights needed to operate a quarry, the subject of one of many lawsuits the project has spawned.

The first thing county officials learned about the road project was late Monday when they were briefed by a concerned local resident. According to Catherine Kanter, deputy mayor for regional operations, there’s not much they can do to influence it.

“Our team reviewed the permitting materials, and based on an initial reading, it appears that the Salt Lake County Land Use Department does not apply to this particular situation since the road in question is owned by the state,” said Catherine Kanter, deputy mayor of regional operations. “Salt Lake County remains committed to defending its land use authority and other jurisdictional rights and will continue to monitor the proposed road project.”

Lassley also didn’t bother to notify the county of his quarrying plans a year ago when he first applied for a large-scale mining permit with the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining (DOGM). At the time, he proposed an open pit mine that would grow to about 400 acres over time, but he has since reduced the proposal to just 20 acres in order to qualify for a much less stringent “small mining operation” permit.

Under pressure from Utah lawmakers, DOGM granted the permit in August, but the project still requires permits from the Department of Environmental Quality and possibly a conditional use permit from the district, which has already indicated it will not be issued.

Earlier this year, County Council amended the zoning ordinance to ban new mining operations in the Wasatch foothills and glens. That move, which was in direct response to the proposed quarry, is now the subject of a lawsuit Lassley has filed alleging that state laws prohibit counties from restricting operations that produce “critical infrastructure materials” a euphemism for sand, gravel, crushed stone, and other low-grade aggregates needed for roads and construction.

According to Stewart, the UDOT approval is contingent on Lassley’s desire to develop his property, whether for a mine or something else.

“We have no position regarding the quarry,” Stewart said. “Our normal business operations [for issuing an encroachment permit] is to say ‘yes.’ The owner said if the quarry is not approved he intends to build some cabins up there.”

Still, the road improvements would mark the first on-site changes related to the controversial quarry. Although the new fence is minor compared to the overall project, it represents a major change for Mount Aire residents.

They only found out about this on Monday in the form of a message from Granite’s “public information team” stating that crews would begin installing posts on Thursday. The brief message said residents would be able to use the parking lot until spring, when construction would begin in earnest.

The news came as a slap in the face to some residents. As a former homeowner in Mt. Aire, Stromness says Lassley would have known how important winter parking is to his former neighbors.

“We would be blocked without taking any other precautions, which is difficult because there are no flat areas there,” Stromness said. “In my opinion, they have no right to block public access this way. Jesse seems to think he has exclusive use despite it being a UDOT street.”

https://www.sltrib.com/news/environment/2022/12/01/state-oks-road-upgrades-parleys/ State approves road upgrade for Parleys Quarry project

Justin Scacco

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