Geneva Rock’s proposed expansion last October of its Point of the Mountain aggregate pit operations received more than its share of attention – and negative public backlash – prompting Draper City Council to instead pass a resolution restricting all future mining within city limits.

The resulting ‘dust-up’ between Geneva Rock and Draper City – hardly the first time a local community has complained about gravel pits being nothing more than an eyesore, health hazard or general nuisance – sparked action during Utah’s 2019 Legislative session that resulted in the passage of H.B. 288 Critical Infrastructure Materials.

The bill, at its core, provides basic protections for aggregate pit owners by limiting cities’ ability to impose undue or unnecessary regulations and/or restrictions on existing operations, said its sponsor, Rep. Logan Wilde of District 53.

“I’m happy we got it through – it was a heavy lift to get to where we are,” said Wilde, who represents rural counties including Rich, Daggett, Duchesne, Morgan, and Summit. “We’re trying to get it into the
general land-use portion of the code; that will take some time.”

“Our industry is at a crossroads,” said Stewart Lamb, Manager, Business and Development for Salt Lake-based Kilgore Companies, which owns Altaview Concrete and operates several aggregate pits throughout the state. “There is an interesting debate. What prevails when, as an industry, we have vested assets with long-term goals and objectives – backed by constitutional private property rights – yet we’re subject to the ever-changing whims of statutory laws and local ordinances? Our point is to make sure we’re in a position of predictability, not only from an ownership standpoint but a legislative standpoint.”

“It’s a property rights issue,” said Dave Kallas, Director of Communications and Sr. Advisor for Orem-based Clyde Companies, owner of Geneva Rock Products and operator of the Point of the Mountain (POM) pit, located prominently along I-15 at the line dividing Salt Lake and Utah Counties. “When you are permitted and operating within the law, that is a fundamental right in our country. We’re seeing attempts by local governments to undermine that. It got to a point where that last chip caused an avalanche. As an industry, we can’t sit back and do nothing and not defend ourselves. We need to work together, those in the construction industry who rely on this product – to step up.

“Every business, every construction company, and anyone who relies on aggregates in Utah should be really concerned about what is happening,” Kallas emphasized. “H.B. 288 sought to bring certainty back to that, and frame that as a regional issue.”

“The challenges we have are typical of industry activity in proximity to neighborhoods and being good neighbors,” said Jake Goodliffe, Vice President, North Wasatch Front for Ogden-based Staker Parson Companies. “It’s an ongoing challenge in the sand and gravel industry. It takes constant effort and campaigning in keeping the information accurate.”

“What’s happening at the Point of the Mountain is happening in other places to varying scales and degrees,” said Lamb. “We work hard to develop and maintain good relationships, but there are changes in how the public and local approval bodies see us as an industry. We’re trying to figure out how to cohabitate.”

“It’s a far-reaching issue that affects not just construction firms, but all developers and the economy as a whole,” added Rich Thorn, President/CEO of the Associated General Contractors (AGC) of Utah. “For gravel pit owners it’s about their property rights…it goes back to constitutional rights of land ownership.”

N.I.M.B.Y. (Not in My Back Yard)
Tooele County added to the aggregate pit debate last December when its commissioner took what Kallas said was
an “unprecedented step” in passing a new ordinance requiring aggregate pit owners to have yet another new permit on top of their existing conditional use permit or legal non- conforming (grandfathered) permit.

Lamb said officials are concerned that some existing pits didn’t have permits, and others don’t have reclamation plans, and the County wants all operators to be on the same plane. In addition, Tooele County feels like aggregates mined from its land ends up building projects in other counties.

“They wanted everyone to come into a new standard, but it leapfrogs traditional vested rights, and you should be allowed to operate within those vested rights,” said
Lamb. “From their perception, they have materials for mining, and they perceive that the (aggregate) industry doesn’t benefit them as much as Salt Lake.”

Kallas said Tooele’s new permit requirements will have negative impacts on all gravel pit owners in the County.

“Tooele is saying that they are just adding new requirements…in reality (they) are adding a new permit and making it so difficult, we don’t know if we will be in business in Tooele a year from now,” said Kallas. “We’ve all been given as of December 2018 an 18-month deadline (to comply). At the time, they didn’t even have a staff member to approve new excavation permits, yet they’re going to have dozens and dozens of new (permit applications).”

Tooele County and Draper City officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

Gravel pit owners have been proactive in keeping their operations running efficiently and within environmental regulations.

“We’ve invested $30 million in the last few years on sustainability, dust mitigation, emission reduction, and power consumption reduction,” said Kallas. “Geneva is putting their money where their mouth is, in terms of being a good steward.”

The phrase ‘Not in My Backyard’ (N.I.M.B.Y) is heard all too often in the aggregate industry. Local officials bring up concerns about hours of operation, dust mitigation, traffic, and haul routes – it makes compliance an unenviable task on many levels.

“It’s a factor in any business, not just gravel pits,” said Wilde. “People get tired of growth and there are some concerns. At the same time, every (community) is looking for the next Wal-Mart. You’ve got to have some sort of (economic) expansion.”

“The application and governance process are high hurdles,” Kallas added.
To combat future issues from arising with Utah communities, aggregate pit owners teamed up in March to create the Critical Infrastructure Materials Coalition (CIMC), a group that will work with other local construction entities in lobbying state political officials to keep onerous regulations in check and allow pits to remain operating within their permit.

Lamb was quick to point out that not all local municipalities are anti-growth or particularly against having aggregate pits in their communities.

“We appreciate communities where we function well and have no issues,” he said. “There are many along the Wasatch Front that understand our industry and are willing to work with us.”

“We actually have a good working relationship with the City of Eagle Mountain and its residents,” said Brady Barney, Operations Manager for TM Crushing in Talon’s Cove, a division of Lehi-based Hadco Construction. “They come out anytime we have blasting. They let us know if there are issues that come up with residents. It’s an open door relationship. We have extra (environmental) policies in place – ‘good neighbor’ policies – like if we feel the wind is too high we’ll shut it down, even if we’re still allowed by law to operate.”

Near ‘Perfect’ Aggregate Sources, Locations
Critics of aggregate pits located in the heart of vibrant communities – the Point of the Mountain pit and the pit located next to the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon on Wasatch Blvd. are prime examples – cite potential air quality hazards for local residents as reason enough to want them to shut down. They also contend that sand and gravel can be mined virtually anywhere, so why keep these urban gravel pits operating?

Let’s start with the most basic reason: bottom-line cost. Industry professionals across the board say it costs an extra $2-$3 per mile to haul aggregates from point A to point B. Not only that, having aggregate sources near construction zones reduces diesel truck traffic and fuel emissions. There is a reason contractors set up ‘batch plants’ for concrete and asphalt projects right at job sites.

“The public doesn’t understand the impact to traffic and air quality if we had gravel pits located 50 miles outside the Wasatch Front,” said Thorn. “The additional expense just to haul materials from that type of distance would drive construction costs up astronomically on all project types.”

Having the POM pit located a stone’s throw from the bustling construction activity within the 20-mile Silicon Slopes corridor has been a godsend for keeping budgets in line and construction schedules on time.

“You have to mine it where the material exists,” said Kallas. “Most aggregates lie on the east bench of the Wasatch Range and as you get further out in the west desert, there are just not the same aggregate sources. The first (pit) operator to move 50 miles into the desert is the first to go out of business.”

“We know it’s not realistic to have sand and gravel resources near every development in every community, but you’re not going to truck aggregates from St. George to Utah County,” said Goodliffe. “The further away it is, the more cost-prohibitive it is.”

Another factor lost on the general public is the quality of natural aggregate mined from POM, Big Cottonwood Canyon, and other east bench pits along the Wasatch Range.

According to a 2001 article by William Case of the Utah Geological Survey, the abundance of ‘good’ aggregate deposits along the Wasatch Front is a result of a billion years of geological processes including 1) deposition of limestone and sandstone in shallow oceans, 2) uplift of mountain ranges, 3) fracturing and erosion of rock, and 4) transport and deposition of sand and gravel by streams, glaciers, and lake processes.

Lake Bonneville, an Ice Age lake roughly the size of Lake Michigan that once covered the entire state of Utah, rose to its highest level about 15,000 years ago and then drained away, leaving behind vast sand and gravel deposits along shorelines that make up ‘bathtub rings’ around the Wasatch Front.

The quality of the aggregate in these pits is considered excellent, with properties that allow for easy crushing, while being ideal for ready-mix concrete and asphalt paving applications because of its hardness, which improves long-term durability.