Quarry expansion at Point of the Mountain gets ‘tentative approval’ despite objections from Draper officials

Draper cries foul after Geneva Rock looks to add 77 acres within city limits to its massive mining footprint.

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Geneva Rock's operation at Point of the Mountain, Feb. 27, 2020.

One of Utah’s largest quarries may soon be getting bigger, upsetting nearby residents already weary of the noise and dust.

Overruling objections raised by Draper city officials, state mining regulators have approved an expansion to Geneva Rock’s quarry at Point of the Mountain straddling the Salt Lake and Utah county line.

In an order released Monday, John Baza, director of the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, or DOGM, concluded Geneva’s plan meets state requirements for large mining operations. The company still faces local zoning requirements and must obtain necessary permits from the Department of Environmental Quality.

“We appreciate the comments received and understand the public’s concerns,” Baza said. “As a regulatory agency, our decisions are based on state rules governing what we can and cannot approve. Geneva has met OGM requirements. However, they must address other local and state agencies’ rules before mining expansion operations begin.”

Draper’s zoning ordinance, in place for a lot longer than Geneva had a permit to mine, however, says the ground Geneva plans to excavate is off-limits to mining. Baza’s order suggests it is up to Draper to enforce its zoning, not DOGM.

Driving the controversy is the Geneva quarry’s proximity to neighborhoods. Nowhere in Utah is large-scale mining and residential development so close together than in Draper. The state’s mining regulations apparently don’t take that into consideration when DOGM issues permits.

Environmental and community impacts are handled by DOGM’s sister agencies which hold the appropriate expertise to address how quarries would affect air and water quality and traffic, according to Baza’s order.

Draper has already taken Geneva to court in an effort to block the expansion onto lands within its city limits. The dispute mirrors Granite Construction’s fight with Salt Lake County over a proposed limestone quarry in Parleys Canyon.

In both instances, quarrying is proposed on ground municipalities have zoned off-limits for mining.

Dozens of Draper residents also are fighting the Geneva expansion, arguing it would harm their health and quality of life.

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.

Under Geneva’s mine plan approved by DOGM in 2009, its permit boundary encompassed 486.5 acres to be excavated in several phases. But plans changed and Geneva sought to adjust the mining footprint in 2017, proposing to remove 61.5 acres and add 77 acres elsewhere.

Much of the added area, however, is inside Draper’s city limits. Officials there were upset that Geneva filed papers last year in an apparent attempt to evade zoning ordinances that don’t allow mining. The land targeted for the expansion is zoned as agricultural open space.

After DOGM gave tentative approval last August, at least 200 letters of opposition were submitted to the agency along with a formal request by Draper to reject the plan. The city’s filing contends Geneva’s plan disregards the rights and expectations of those who invested in homes and exacerbates an already intolerable situation with dust emissions.

“Residents who purchased their properties in Draper were assured that Geneva could not expand its mine because the land around it was zoned as agricultural land,” the filing states. “Geneva’s proposed expansion could impact property values in the area and cause companies not to bring their businesses to the Draper area.”

For its part, Geneva claims Draper lacks authority to regulate existing mining operations, such as the Point of the Mountain quarry, which qualifies as a “vested mining use” under state law. This spot has been quarried for about 70 years — back when the only people living nearby were prison inmates — but it wasn’t until 2005 that Geneva needed to get a DOGM permit for the quarry.

Nowadays, the Utah State Prison is on its way out and the area is becoming dense with homes and commercial enterprises. It is also a popular paragliding destination that some fear will be ruined if the quarry expansion is allowed.

Barring a collapse in Utah’s construction boom and demand for aggregates, the quarry’s future will likely become a matter for the courts to sort out.