Bill creating protected zone for gravel pits clears Utah Senate Committee

March 12, 2019

A controversial bill creating protected areas for operations such as sand, gravel and rock aggregate extraction was approved by a Utah Senate committee Monday afternoon after substantial amendments were made.

House Bill 288, sponsored by Rep. Logan Wilde, R-Croydon, would create “critical infrastructure protection areas,” for operations including the extraction, excavation, processing or reprocessing of critical infrastructure materials, and has faced criticism from those worried it would limit local regulation within those protection areas for things like sand, gravel and rock aggregate extraction operations.

Gravel pits provide materials for Utah’s fast-paced construction and growth, but often receive complaints from nearby residents for issues such as health concerns from excess dust in the air, excess heavy truck travel on nearby roads as well as noise and lighting complaints. But, Wilde told the committee Monday, the cost of gravel doubles when it has to be transported further than 50 miles, making it “prohibitive” for companies to operate far from where the demand is.

The committee made two major amendments to two of the more controversial aspects of the bill regarding protected operations’ ability to expand to adjacent land and be subject to public referendums.

To form a critical infrastructure materials protection area according to the proposed bill, a proposal must be filed with either the relevant city or county. Creation of the protection area can only be initiated by the legislative body of the city or county.

When the bill came to the committee, it said that creation of critical infrastructure materials protection areas is an administrative act. Under Utah code, administrative acts are not subject to a public referendum to challenge the decision. Legislative acts, however, are subject to a referendum.

The committee amended the language to say that the creation of such protection areas is a legislative act, and therefore subject to a challenge via referendum. Sen. Daniel McKay said he believed the change helped restore a little bit of the people’s voice in the process.

Another amendment took out language in the bill that gave protected operations the ability to expand if the expansion is on land contiguous with that which the operator owns or controls, and if the land was zoned for such operations in accordance with permits issued by the city. An amendment passed by the committee took out the language allowing for such expansion, which Wilde agreed to, saying that what the bill is trying to do is protect industries that are critical from having to move elsewhere.

Despite those amendments, many people still oppose the bill, including several residents from the Point of the Mountain area and Draper City Councilwoman Michelle Weeks, who said she did not speak for the city, but said she was concerned with protecting the health and wellbeing of her city’s residents, and expressed concerns that passing the bill would take away some of her city’s ability to improve its situation.

Tony Nelson, who runs the Point of the Mountain Politics Facebook page, said the amendments in the bill did not go far enough to protect cities and counties, still limiting the authority to regulate gravel pits. Nelson said shipping gravel further and paying more would be worth it not to worry about health effects of breathing in the silica and dust from the gravel pits.

Sen. Jake Anderegg, R-Lehi, lives near Geneva Rock’s Point of the Mountain gravel pit, and said the area’s frequent wind lends itself to debris and dust. He said he gets phone calls from his constituents concerned about the health effects of that dust.

While Anderegg voted to pass the bill out of committee with a favorable recommendation, he said his vote on the Senate floor would not be certain until he gets several questions answered, including what the additional costs are to ship gravel from further away, and what controls are already in place to mitigate dust.

The bill passed out of committee and heads to the Senate floor with a favorable recommendation with a vote of 5-2. Senators Gene Davis and Dan Hemmert, R-Orem, were the two no votes.

Davis said his no vote came because he did not think the issue was ready to move forward and needed more discussion in the interim.

The committee unanimously voted for the item to be studied in the legislative interim session. Thursday is the last day of the annual 45-day legislative session.

West Mountain and Benjamin residents have routinely approached the commission with concerns about heavy truck traffic on roads, dust control concerns, and noise and lighting complaints. Fruit farmers have also previously approached the county with concerns about the effects dust in the air has on their fruit crops. Nearly 10,000 acres in the West Mountain area were rezoned by Utah County in 2018 to prevent new gravel pits

The gravel pit operation at the Point of the Mountain in Draper has also faced frequent public scrutiny, as many residents have opposed attempts to expand that operation, and Lehi city officials are working with the Utah Department of Health to get more comprehensive studies of health effects of the mining operations.