Mountain removal is a toxic business
Jutting out at a near-perpendicular angle to the Wasatch Mountain range, Point of the Mountain is an unassuming sandbar left over from ancient Lake Bonneville.
This geological oddity is mostly known as a landmark for commuters on I-15, but it's also a community in Draper, a historical site where World War II pilots trained on gliders, and a destination spot for hang glider and paraglider enthusiasts from around the world.
But gnawing away at the Point of the Mountain since the 1970s has been Clyde Companies' Geneva Rock. The strip mine produces fine-grade gravel for local freeways, surface streets, and home foundations. Now Geneva is pursuing a second phase to its mining operation.
Phase two includes taking a massive chunk out of Steep Mountain (commonly known as South Mountain). The result will be a gap large enough to fly two airliners through, wing tip to wing tip. A person looking south from Sandy will be able to see Utah County through the gap. That big. See savesteepmountain.org for visual reference.
Imagine if Slick Rock Trail in Moab were auctioned off to oil drillers, if Snowbird's Mineral Basin were rezoned to be a granite quarry? Point of the Mountain is to gliders what Yosemite is to climbers, the North Shore of Oahu is to surfers, and what Moab is to mountain bikers.
It is Mecca for those in the United States who like to soar the planet's geography, using nothing but the winds and the warm air rising from the ground.
If you're not the type who takes exception to the encroachment of industry in Utah's wild places, perhaps you will take exception to Geneva making our infamous air pollution worse, and encroaching on your health.
Dust, and lots of it, pours from the mine every day. Geneva's dust likely contains crystalline silica, heavy metals and radioactive particles from the old days of nuclear testing in the Nevada desert that settled in Utah. The mine's opponents (the state can't be bothered) are presently testing soil samples to determine what aggregate of toxic materials is being disseminated.
Not just paragliders are affected. The poisonous dust is blown all over the communities of Draper, Bluffdale, Lehi, Alpine, and as far as downtown Salt Lake City on the windiest of days. At best, we get a fine dusting of the silt on a normal day. At worst, a sky so full of grit that it is actually opaque.
The dust comes to rest on your garden, your son's soccer practice, your car, your daughter's elementary school playground, and into everyone's lungs and blood vessels. And there's not enough water in this perennially drought-plagued state to control this acrid dust; not when it's 100 degrees and the wind is blowing 30 miles per hour.
While the mine owners allegedly have the proper permits to continue digging, what of the communities that have grown up around the area? Are they to suffer the incessant dusting while inadequate laws are bent to accommodate industry instead of protecting the quality of life in this valley?
Losing an internationally famous paragliding site is one thing; standing by while the health of you and your family is compromised, is quite another.
A group of citizens called Save Steep Mountain is blowing the whistle on this unscrupulous activity happening at Point of the Mountain. They aim to raise awareness of the threats including the permanent destruction of the Utah skyline, the air quality issue, and the loss of a rare flying site.
If you wish to join them, you may visit savesteepmountain.org. Also, every time you see, smell, taste or breathe Geneva's dust, complain to the Department of Air Quality by calling 801-536-4000.
We risk losing the economic benefits of this internationally renowned gliding site. But more important, we must protect and preserve the Salt Lake Valley for our posterity. We must be good stewards of the land with which we are entrusted. We must not allow industry profits no matter how large to sacrifice our health, our habitat and our way of life. We must perpetuate the sentiment of our early settlers; "This is the place."
Kristjan Morgan is president of the Utah Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association. Karl Yates is chairman of Save Steep Mountain.
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