The Parleys Canyon mine is testing the limits of the powers of the Utah Department of Mines

A planned limestone quarry in Parleys Canyon, Utah would reportedly leave no more than 20 acres of footprint at the base of Grandeur Peak, but its impact would be felt well beyond the open pit and the adjacent Wasatch Mountain foothills.

Under state law, “small mining operations” that disturb less than 20 acres are subject to minimal review by the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, or DOGM. However, state law also requires the agency to ensure that “mining operations are conducted to minimize or prevent hazards to public health and safety.”

With that clause in mind, the department is moving slowly on approving the quarry—for now.

The ongoing quarrying controversy — which has spilled over into the Salt Lake County courts, legislature, and council chambers — speaks to the conflicting guidelines DOGM enacts through state statutes and the influence that the resource industry is having on Utah politics exercises

At a July 13 hearing, DOGM Director John Baza presented arguments from both sides in the quarry controversy. His upcoming order will detail how his agency will conduct the review of the project.

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Proponents of the quarry — landowner Tree Farm LLC and its partner Granite Construction — claim that DOGM’s role at this stage is little more than handling paperwork. Meanwhile, city officials have raised myriad concerns about how mining operations could wreak havoc in a protected watershed, unleashing clouds of dust across Utah’s most densely populated area and ravaging a landscape prized for recreation and wildlife habitat.

In objections filed with DOGM, the county, Salt Lake City and Millcreek insist the agency conduct a close inspection of the quarry. These institutions and thousands of residents want the project to end.

“The division is not a stamp,” said Artemis Vamianakis, an attorney representing Millcreek. “She may exercise that power to ensure those safeguards are in place.”

Whatever Baza decides, the so-called I-80 South Quarry still has to go through extensive permitting processes with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, particularly with regard to potential dust emissions.

But cabin owners in neighboring Mt. Aire Canyon find little solace in that. At Wednesday’s Oil, Gas and Mining Board meeting, three owners said the mine would put all 100 homes in the gorge and their residents at risk from dust, earthquakes and wildfires.

“I am a supporter of private property rights, but not when a man, a newcomer, claims that he also has property rights for his actions on his own property, seriously affecting the property rights of me and my neighbors and thousands of others.” What is not clear to me is who is responsible for determining if mining activities will endanger the safety of the nearby community,” Justin Wilde told the board. “This is the agency responsible for mining in this state. I’m asking you, I’m asking you, to take seriously your right and ability to look into these matters. There are thousands of homeowners looking down at you and thanking you.”

At least 300 Salt Lake County residents submitted letters to DOGM opposing the quarry.

DOGM is considering Granite Construction’s June 16 notification to mine under Utah’s Small Mine Rules. Property owner Jesse Lassley previously submitted the ad as a large mine that would eventually consume 400 acres of hillside land over the course of 100 years of operation.

Critics want the proposal to be reviewed as a large mine, as proponents intend someday to do so, but DOGM has declined, arguing it is normal for quarry proponents to start small and seek permission to expand when the economics suggest a larger one operation justified.

But it also failed to grant approval within the tight legal timeframe.

“It has now been 15 days and the department has not notified the operator that anything is incomplete regarding the LOI,” said Kass Wallin, Granite’s attorney. “The only thing the department has to review and approve or deny under the rule is the form and amount of the recovery bond.”

Granite has proposed a $352,000 bond, which DOGM has accepted. Accordingly, Wallin argued, it was time for DOGM to step aside.

“The department has had this policy for decades,” he said, “and the department would be violating the same protective rights of operators if it decided on a case-by-case basis — this small mine needs this information and that information, however small the mine operation requires.” additional or different or more complex information.”

The Republican legislature has sided with Granite.

During last month’s interim meeting, the government operations committee held Baza and the Oil and Gas Authority accountable for subjecting the Parleys quarry to an additional audit in apparent disregard of state law.

In the last few legislatures, lawmakers have passed bills that shield the aggregates industry in a way that is now helping the Parleys project. HB288, passed in 2019, limits counties’ ability to regulate existing quarry operations that quarry “critical infrastructure materials.” And passing next year, SB131 raises the threshold to qualify as a small-scale mine from 10 to 20 acres.

Critics say such legislation ignores the significant interests of surrounding communities when it comes to aggregate mining. Salt Lake City, for example, holds numerous water rights and maintains reservoirs in Parleys Canyon to provide drinking water for 360,000 residents.

City attorney Michael Lee told Baza the proposed quarry would jeopardize the city’s massive investment in the gorge.

“Our watershed in Parley’s Canyon has been severely impacted not only by overexploitation and development, but also by climate change,” Lee said. “Adding the proposed mine greatly exacerbates these significant concerns and will only become a problem over time. The proposed mine will make it much more difficult for Salt Lake City to meet its obligations under state and federal laws to provide clean and safe water.”

Baza, usually an extractive industry facilitator, clearly understands the concerns of community leaders and has previously indicated that Parleys may not be a suitable location for a new quarry because it is close to Utah’s core population along the Wasatch Front, in which already has several large sand and gravel works in adjacent neighborhoods.

“It’s affecting a lot of people’s lives, so it deserves the extra attention we’re giving it,” Baza said at the end of the July 13 hearing.

Baza’s order was due Tuesday, but DOGM announced this week that it was extending the deadline given the complexity of the matter and public interest.

“It affects a lot of people,” Baza said. “First and foremost, the philosophy I’ve always had in my role as administrative director of the department is that we have to apply the rules and the bylaws consistently.”

And that could mean that some mine proposals will come under closer scrutiny if they pose greater risks to the public and the environment. The Parleys Canyon mine is testing the limits of the powers of the Utah Department of Mines

Justin Scacco

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