Utah legislator pitches bill to limit powers of local government

SALT LAKE CITY — House Bill 288, pitched to the Utah House of Representatives last week as part of the 2019 legislative session, has sparked controversy across the state over who should control critical infrastructure materials.

The bill is designed to limit the ability of local government (city and county councils) to determine critical infrastructure issues like mines, gravel pits, water and more, and instead relegating them to the Legislature under advisement from a committee.

Utahns, especially in cities like Draper where mines are a day-to-day part of life, are upset by the move toward nonlocalized decision making.

“This is an attempt to circumvent the city’s decision to actually try and prevent expansion of mining in the future,” Draper resident Adrian Dybwad said.

Rep. Logan Wilde, R-Croydon, who pitched the bill, had seen concerns come up about infrastructure issues resulting from pressure from local government and citizens.

“Some of those were water projects, some were electricity projects, some were gravel, some were mining.”

Wilde explained that all of the events impacted a much broader base than any local city or county. He believed if there is a regional impact resulting from a decision, the state ought to step in.

One of the issues helping motivate the bill was a controversy surrounding mining expansion at the Point of the Mountain. Draper and Lehi City disagreed as to how the mining issue ought to be handled, and specifically whether Geneva Rock (the most prominent gravel pit mine) should be restricted.

If significant limits were placed on Geneva Rock, according to Wilde, the company would have no choice but to start carting in the products to the Point of the Mountain for processing.

“That means going outside of the community, bringing trucks in, and then crushing it, processing it, turning it into a product, and then taking it out,” he said. “In my mind that creates more pollution, more congestion, more problems.”

“That’s what local government is about,” Wilde said. “Trying to keep a buffer between a community’s businesses and citizens and their homes. There’s passionate people on both sides.”

Limiting local governance

The bill limits the powers of local government, making it so they aren’t able to make some decisions affecting property values and quality of life.

“As a mayor, I would like to see my city and every other city maintain its longstanding zoning authority," Walker said.

Though advisory committees would be formed with the intent to accurately represent the will of both residents and local companies, many Draper residents are worried the committees won’t be able to represent their concerns like the Draper City Council can.

“We are looking for local people, so in other words, your local road person, elected official, your local engineer, and a person from the industry (in question),” Wilde said. “We’re also adding (one person) from the citizens themselves, and one from the Utah Department of Transportation.”

The city of Draper initiated the process to restrict future mining operations in the wake of a controversial proposal to expand a local gravel pit that many said would lead to dangerous levels of pollution.

Some residents don’t think it’s enough. “The deck is stacked for mining, and local interest is clearly not going to carry sway with this structure,” Draper resident Robert MacFarlane said.

Walker also doesn’t care for the bill’s language, as it not only seeks to take zoning authority away from the City Council, but it also still involves them in the decision making process without delegating them any influence.

“We still have to have public hearings,” He said. “We have to still do all of this work, and at the end of the day we don’t have any power.”

Walker was referring to a part of the bill stating local governments have to hold City Council meetings to discuss the bill and give their advisement to the advisory committees appointed by the legislature.

Still, Wilde believes this process is worth it for the sake of more balanced decision making.

Air quality and health impacts

Neurosurgeon and board member for Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment John MacFarlane’s chief concerns with the mine have to do with health effects from worsening air quality.

“The health hazard of Geneva’s gravel pit is not merely their contribution to overall community air pollution,” he explained. “Dust from mining and gravel pits are in and of themselves hazardous, and diesel exhaust from heavy equipment is well established to be toxic.”

The state epidemiologist is planning on conducting studies of air quality around the Point of the Mountain over the course of the next year. Up until this point, few studies have been made about pollution in the area, and MacFarlane thinks the results might change the minds of those currently in support of the mines.

“If this bill passes, Geneva and the other mining operations at Point of the Mountain and throughout the area will expand which will (lead) to more dust and diesel exhaust from these operations and the immediate compromise of resident’s health,” MacFarlane said.

Considering the bill

Mayor Walker explained that in managing controversial issues like this one, there’s always going to be passionate people on either side of the coin.

“If this bill passes, the economic impact could be profound for the areas of Draper and Lehi,” John MacFarlane concluded. “Several of the tech companies, including Plural Sight and Adobe and others, slated to build facilities and bring employees to the area have recently expressed their concerns about expansion of mining operations at the Point of the Mountain. If this bill passes, they may leave and the economic growth they would have brought could be lost.”

Meanwhile, Geneva Rock is considered to be the leading producer of construction aggregates for Utah and believes it also provides a significant financial benefit to the community.

Geneva Rock trucks enter and exit their Point of the Mountain facility Monday, Sept. 10, 2018. The city of Draper last fall initiated the process to restrict future mining operations in the wake of a controversial proposal to expand a local gravel pit that many said would lead to dangerous levels of pollution. But a new bill in the Utah State Legislature seeks to limit local government control of such matters.

Walker hopes the bill is not passed, so Draper City Council can seek a compromise with Geneva Rock leaving both residents and the company in a good position. “We can either make a compromise we can all live with, or we can have them go do this,” Walker said.

“The deals you negotiate are always better than the deals someone else negotiates for you.”

Rep. Wilde also would like to see compromise between citizens and the mining industry but believes the decision is better left to state government.

“We’re not looking to take (citizens’) voices away,” Wilde said. “We’re looking to put bumpers on the sides so we don’t take this off the rails.”

HB0288 will continue to be in discussion throughout the 2019 legislative session. Rep. Wilde has expressed that he’s open to input from the public and can be contacted here.

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