Starr: Draper shouldn’t expand Geneva Rock’s gravel pit

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"Community engagement around local environmental issues is absolutely critical." (Courtesy Peakpx)

By Kennedie Starr, Opinion Writer

 

Last spring, Geneva Rock, a construction company with locations dotted across the Wasatch Front, reapplied to Draper City for a rezone to enlarge their already sizeable gravel pit at the point of the mountain. Thankfully, the Draper City Planning Commission unanimously gave a negative recommendation to the Draper City Council regarding the rezone and other development requests. The city council should continue this line of responsible decision making and reject the application altogether. If the city truly cares about the quality of life and the concerns of residents, they will listen to those who have voiced disapproval for this and similar projects.

If passed by the local council, Geneva’s rezone would enlarge their mining area by 26.99 acres near the boundary of Lehi, encouraging further erosion and extractive processes which contribute to negative environmental and human health outcomes. The planning commission was right in their recommendation, but the final decision now rests on Draper’s seven-member council and mayor.

Two years ago, when Geneva initially applied for a rezone to expand by 73 acres, the surrounding community spoke up, and the company withdrew its plan. While the first request was much larger than this most recent plea for 26 acres, it’s still critical for local government to reject unsustainable, irresponsible and unpopular development, no matter how large or small. If we give an inch, they’ll take a mile, because the entire end goal of our economic system is profit, even if the company echoes cries of sustainability. What makes city planners and officials think that this will be Geneva’s final request for enlargement? This type of industry will always have to expand, as there is only so much the land can give in a single operation.

Transforming the slope of the land and altering drainage patterns are serious impacts in and of themselves — but gravel pits also pose serious threats to public health. Government interference is necessary to regulate and reign in operations that, at their core, compromise the well-being of people and the planet. Aggregate mining not only “permanently alters the natural environment,” but the process releases particulate matter, contaminating the air that we breathe.

Air pollution sources in Utah are broken up into three main categories by the EPA — mobile sources, point sources and area sources. Cars and other mobile sources are the largest contributors to our negative air quality, but that doesn’t mean that large companies like Geneva Rock should get a break. Point sources like large mining operations are responsible for 13% of pollution in a typical inversion. And while fugitive dust from mining sites can be kept somewhat in check through water cannons, this feels like a poor – and even sinister – use of a life-sustaining natural resource. There’s a special kind of pain felt when driving past a gravel pit and seeing such an essential resource being wasted to control an already harmful process.

Do we need gravel and concrete? Of course. Roads, asphalt and buildings are critical, especially as our population continues to grow tremendously. But there has to be a better balance between an extra-active industry and the surrounding environment and community. We also need to consider how better to reuse construction and demolition waste, even when that doesn’t suit construction and aggregate companies’ bottom-lines. The choice that Draper City has is between protecting and listening to residents or ceding to the expansion of an unsustainable industry with a poor track record of following the rules.

Community engagement around local environmental issues like these is absolutely critical. If you’re registered to vote in Draper or nearby cities or otherwise interested in restricting Geneva Rock’s rezoning initiative, you can submit public comments online or lookout for a public hearing to be held as soon as public health protections permit.

 

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@KennedieEliz