Quarry proponents seek to begin mining Parleys in July, setting up a showdown with Salt Lake County

In a new application, Granite Construction outlined a 20-acre project eligible for expedited review under Utah mine regulations.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A proposed limestone quarry in Parleys Canyon would be accessed by this road above Interstate 80, photographed Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.

The limestone quarry proposed for Parleys Canyon is back.

Despite intense opposition from Salt Lake County residents and elected officials, proponents of the controversial aggregate mine intend to begin mining as soon as July 16, according to papers filed this month with state regulators.

Paperwork filed June 15 by Granite Construction Co., a major aggregate producer with global operations, provide little information about how it intends to mine and mitigate the quarry’s dust emissions, noise and potential impacts to groundwater, wildlife and the nearby Mt. Aire Canyon community. The company’s application outlined a 20-acre project eligible for an expedited review under Utah mine regulations, potentially cutting out the public an any decision making.

Nor does the application try to square the proposed quarry with a zoning ordinance adopted in April by the Salt Lake County Council, banning new mining operations in the Wasatch foothills.

County Mayor Jenny Wilson, a staunch opponent, said she could see no pathway for the project to start by July 16, as proposed by Granite.

“The applicant will need to get all necessary permits and approvals before beginning the proposed operation,” she said. “This includes meeting all legal requirements related to Salt Lake County’s land-use authority.”

No permits applications have been filed with the county in connection with the project.

“If the applicant were to illegally begin operations before obtaining all required Salt Lake County approvals,” Wilson continued, “we would respond with swift action to preserve our legal rights.”

(Christopher Cherrington | The Salt Lake Tribune)

Granite Construction officials did not respond to voicemails seeking comment. Lawyers for the property owner Jesse Lassley, who originally proposed the quarry last year, have previously blasted the zoning ordinance as an illegal attempt by the county to regulate aggregate extraction. A law passed in 2019, puts this type of mining entirely within the purview of the state, they claim.

In its June 15 filing with the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining (DOGM), Granite Construction indicated the project would not exceed 20 acres, thereby qualifying as a “small mining operation.” Under Utah regulations, mines of that size are not subject to public comment and are ordinarily approved 30 days after regulators determine the application is complete and the miner’s surety is adequate to cover reclamation costs.

In this case, Granite posted a $352,000 bond.

Granite has partnered with Lassley, the Utah developer operating under the business name Tree Farm LLC. Lassley has amassed hundred of acres in Parleys Canyon in recent years, including a stake in the existing Harper’s quarry near the canyon mouth. Granite operates a massive sand-and-gravel pit nearby in Cottonwood Heights at the mouth of Big Cottonwood Canyon.

The higher reaches of Parleys Canyon, above the mine site, are within a protected watershed that supplies 360,000 Salt Lake County residents with culinary water. The canyon is rimmed with popular hiking spots where thousands of people go to enjoy the views. The quarry would be cut into the south side of the canyon between Grandeur Peak and Mt. Aire, both accessed by popular trails from Mill Creek Canyon.

Granite’s filing is noteworthy for its complete lack of specificity regarding its plans. An executive named Mike Tatusko simply filled in blanks on DOGM’s standard small-mine application form as if the I-80 South Quarry were just another small operation.

“On-site activities will include blasting, crushing, screening, dozing, hauling, etc. typical to similar surface mine operations,” one entry states. “All deleterious or potentially deleterious material will be safely removed from the site or left in an isolated or neutralized condition such that adverse environmental effects are eliminated or controlled.”

By contrast, Tree Farms’ original filings explained in great detail how it would mine and process limestone, proposing a vast open pit that would yield 2 million tons of crushed stone a year.

The company withdrew its filing for a 400-acre quarry in the face of withering flack from Mt. Aire cabin owners, Wilson and other elected local leaders, and thousands of other residents who signed an online petition and attended numerous public meetings.

In response to the quarry proposal, the County Council moved to eliminate new mines in the Wasatch. That prompted a lawsuit from Tree Farm, seeking to invalidate the zoning change as an illegal encroachment on its property rights.

Although the suit was filed a month ago in state court, the county has yet to be served with it, according to Wilson.

Critics insist DOGM should scrutinize the proposal under the large mine rules since Tree Farm’s first filing showed it intended to blast open a massive pit.