Draper takes Geneva Rock to court over Point of the Mountain quarry expansion

The city of Draper seeks to block the gravel producer’s attempt to evade local land-use rules as it expands Point of the Mountain quarry.

Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune Geneva Rock's operations at Point of the Mountain, straddling Utah and Salt Lake Counties, Tuesday September 22, 2015. The city of Draper is objecting to the gravel producer's plan to expand onto 67 acres inside city limits.

A major sand and gravel producer’s alleged attempts to evade local land-use authority in Salt Lake County has resulted in another lawsuit over Utah’s booming aggregate-extraction industry.

The city of Draper filed suit Monday, asking the 3rd District Court to invalidate Geneva Rock’s claim that its Point of the Mountain quarry is a “vested mining use” under Utah law.

State regulators last month recognized Geneva’s vested rights, paving the way for a 67-acre expansion within Draper’s city limits without any review by city authorities, according to the suit. Since 1990, however, the land where Geneva proposes to excavate is not available for mining under the city’s zoning ordinances.

Yet in November, Geneva filed a notice with the county recorder, declaring a right to mine at its operations at Point of the Mountain, setting off alarm bells for Draper city officials who fear the quarry aims to exploit loopholes in state law.

“Geneva has broadcast its intent to rely on its Notice of Vested Mining Use to avoid participating in Draper’s required public process and to circumvent any limitations and protections Draper may impose to preserve the health, safety, and welfare of Draper residents,” the suit states. It contends state law excludes sand, gravel and other aggregates as a “mineral deposit,” so aggregate quarries like Point of the Mountain cannot constitute a vested mining use.

Reached Monday, Ally Isom, chief marketing officer with Geneva’s corporate parent Clyde Companies, gave a brief statement, striking a conciliatory tone.

“We are confident we are fully in compliance with the law and state procedure,” said Isom —who until recently was a Republican primary candidate for Utah’s U.S. Senate seat — in a text. “We are reviewing the city’s action and will earnestly continue as an engaged community partner, both in Draper and throughout the state.”

Last month, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, or DOGM, gave tentative approval for Geneva’s expansion and approved Geneva’s claim of a vested right to mine. Since 1974, it has been digging at Point of the Mountain where it now owns 872 acres. It is proposing to increase its mining footprint there from 190 to 340 acres, blasting into bedrock to extract quartzite and limestone, according to documents on file with DOGM.

According to Geneva’s marketing materials, Point of the Mountain has been the nation’s top sand and gravel producer at a single location since 2007. Its products have been used to build sidewalks, bridges, pipelines, airports and parks all over the Salt Lake and Utah valleys.

Three years ago, the Legislature passed HB288, which designated aggregates as “critical infrastructure materials” exempt from municipal regulations in many situations. Geneva, however, does not cite this law in its filing supporting its claim of a vested right.

The Point of the Mountain situation mirrors the equally controversial Parleys Canyon limestone quarry proposed by Granite Construction, whose partner is likewise claiming a vested right to mine associated with the Harpers quarry a mile down the canyon. The proposed I-80 South Quarry and the existing Harpers pit share a common owner: a company called Tree Farm LLC.

Salt Lake County, joined by Salt Lake City and Millcreek, is fighting the Parleys project, citing impacts to air quality, water sources and scenery, and increased wildfire risk that could imperil the Mt. Aire Canyon community. This year, the County Council changed the zoning ordinance to bar any new mining operations in the Wasatch foothills and canyons.

These controversies highlight the escalating conflicts arising from Utah’s construction boom. There are strong economic incentives to obtain the sand, gravel and crushed stone near where the building is occurring.

In the Geneva case, the growing pit is already close to residential areas in Draper and across the Utah County line in Lehi.

Dozens of Draper residents submitted objections to DOGM, asking the regulators to reconsider their tentative approval of the mine expansion.

“Geneva Rock needs to follow a fair, open, and transparent public process, which would require them to follow long-standing established process to seek a zoning change and land use amendment from Draper City,” wrote state Rep. Suzanne Harrison, D-Draper. “Even given HB288, this effort to subvert local input and control is deeply concerning.”

Geneva’s proposed expansion lies in three separate zoning districts: agriculture, regional commercial and major manufacturing. Mining is considered a prohibited use in the first two and a conditional use in the third.

The city’s lawsuit seeks an injunction blocking Geneva from commencing any land-disturbing activities associated with the quarry expansion until it complies with the zoning ordinance.