A controversial quarry in Parleys Canyon is one step closer to opening after the Utah Division of Air Quality signaled its intention to approve the plan late last month.
The public has until July 27 to provide feedback. Written comments may be sent to the Utah Division of Air Quality, 195 N. 1950 W., Salt Lake City, UT, 84116 or sent by email to John Persons, email@example.com. The Department of Environmental Quality has some guidelines for participants on how to submit useful contributions on their website.
Opponents of the project have already spoken out about its potential damage to the air quality and scenic landscape of the Wasatch Mountains.
Utah’s weak regulatory framework makes it very difficult to mitigate dust pollution at this site, said Kyle Brennan, a member of the Save Parleys group, in a news release. Before this permit is issued, the unique atmospheric conditions in Parleys Canyon would need to be studied for at least one full year in order to understand the quarry’s potential impacts on air quality in leeward communities.
The proposed site is within a few miles of the Millcreek, Sugarhouse, Canyon Rim and Foothill neighborhoods.
Parleys Canyon is like a funnel of the wind, Scott Williams, another Save Parleys member, said in an interview.
Called I-80 South Quarry, Granite Construction will operate the limestone mine on land owned by Tree Farm, LLC, whose registered agent is Jesse Lassley, a real estate developer. Lassley’s representatives filed a notice of intent to open a major mining operation in November 2021 with the Division of Oil, Gas and Mines which estimated a maximum disturbance area of 634 acres.
On the same day, Tree Farm also filed a notice of intent to open a smaller 20-acre impact mine. The larger operation application has since been withdrawn, although Lassley’s lawyers have signaled they will still pursue it. The DOGM approved the smaller mine in August.
Now that it also likely got Division of Air Quality approval, the mine operators only need a conditional use permit from Salt Lake County, but county officials have resisted the mine to this day.
In a statement, Mayor Jenny Wilson called that far from a foregone conclusion and said the county intends to submit comments to the division. She has encouraged the public to do the same.
We have grave concerns, Wilson said, and outstanding questions about the impact of the proposed mines on Salt Lake County’s air quality and water resources.
In April 2022, just months after Tree Farm filed its mining advisories, the Salt Lake County Council passed an ordinance banning mining in the foothills and canyons of Wasatch. A month later, Tree Farm sued the county, but there seems to have been little movement on the case so far.
They obviously aren’t suppressing most of the dust
According to the latest plans, I-80 South Quarry will include blasting operations, two crushers and three diesel generators, producing up to 1.1 million tons of aggregate annually.
DAQ’s pre-approval document includes regulations to keep the dust down, which mainly involves spraying the pit and its dirt roads with water.
But Greg Carling, an associate professor of geology at Brigham Young University, wrote a paper in 2018 on Utah’s dust regulations for gravel pits and found them outdated and fairly subjective.
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Based on just driving past Point of the Mountain and other gravel pits on windy days, Carling said in an interview, they’re obviously not suppressing most of the dust.
Utah code sets limits on the opacity of fugitive dust, or how much visibility is blurred by a plume. When it gets too high, mine operators should wet the dust source. But that rule doesn’t apply when winds reach 25 miles per hour or more.
And that’s exactly when we have to go the extra mile to suppress dust, Carling said. … I’m just a little off the hook.
In his paper, which Carling noted is not peer-reviewed, he attempted to estimate how much water a quarry would need to effectively control dust pollution. It lands between 200,000 and 1 million gallons per acre each year.
It’s almost like you need trucks that are constantly spinning spraying the surface, Carling said. This would require a ton of water and a ton of expense to get the job done right.
Utah’s overuse of water combined with climate change and the drying up of the West are leading to more and more dust events, including pollution that continues to blow off the dried-up Great Salt Lake.
We should absolutely worry about that, Carling said. It’s affecting the particulate matter in the air we breathe every day. And much of the particulate matter contains fine particles that go deep into the lungs.
The state saw record-breaking dust storms last year, Carling added.
The problem with DAQ-supervised monitoring equipment is that it’s mostly set up to capture widespread pollution events, such as winter inversions. They don’t always capture localized pollution, such as plumes blowing from a gravel pit or dry lake bed in a neighborhood.
It might not fill the entire valley, Carling said, but it will definitely affect someone downwind.
On an I-80 South Quarry website maintained by Granite Construction, the company points to Utah’s rapidly growing population. All that growth means construction, and construction needs the aggregate materials it offers. Place a gravel operation too far away from all the development, and the Wasatch Front will also see pollution in the form of heavy truck traffic hauling in the rock.
Failure to develop new sources of local aggregates will have serious environmental and economic consequences, the company argues.
But Williams with Save Parleys countered that most valleys predicted growth will occur in the southwest side of the valley, not in long-established communities like Millcreek and Sugarhouse.
This is as far into Salt Lake County as you can get from where the developments will occur, Williams said. We do not know where the destination of this aggregate is. Until we know, we can’t know if this is a good site for it or not.
Carling suggested examining wind patterns and identifying mining locations where the dust won’t blow in huge population centers. But even in rural Utah County, where gravel pits have opened, farmers are grappling with the dust and the damage it is causing to their crops.
As soon as you go somewhere else, Carling acknowledged, it will affect another person.
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