Scaled-back version of gravel mining bill moves to Senate floor

The debate over the comparative rights of gravel pit operators and the neighborhoods that border them is poised to unfold on the Senate floor in the waning days of the legislative session.

A Senate panel on Monday voted to advance HB288, a bill that would create protection zones for existing gravel operations. The measure sponsored by Rep. Logan Wilde already has passed the House even though it has faced a hail of criticism, with residents near the Point of the Mountain pit and other extraction sites arguing it would effectively disempower local governments from regulating the operations.

But extensive changes to the bill have scaled it back significantly, its supporters said Monday, and the latest language merely provides predictability to residents and gravel operators alike.

Sen. Dan McCay, R-Riverton, said the revised version would simply lay out a local government process for handling the gravel pits, although he recognized those changes wouldn’t satisfy everyone.

"I recognize when we're dealing with people's homes, it is the most personal thing all of us own," he said. "It is our backyard. It is where our kids play."

At the same time, McCay said, people should consider that their homes’ foundations and their neighborhood streets are all built from gravel materials. And if local extraction operations are shut down, builders will have to truck in the material, driving up the cost of development, McCay said.

During the hearing, several people said they weren't as concerned about dollars and cents as about air quality and the health of residents near the gravel pits.

“Why should these people pay the cost with their health and sometimes with their lives so we can have access to cheap gravel?” Cherise Udell, with Utah Moms for Clean Air, said.

A representative from the Silicon Slopes sustainable growth committee submitted a letter asking lawmakers not to pass HB288.

“We all appreciate the critical nature of the infrastructure provided by these mining operations — our roads and buildings depend on them!” wrote Steve Daly, chief executive officer of a South Jordan software company called Ivanti. “However, the value of the land for other uses, the health of our families and employees, and our ability to continue to grow other parts of our community, all now outweigh the benefits of leaving this legacy which has served us for so many decades.”

HB288′s critics have claimed its sponsor, Wilde, R-Croydon, has a conflict of interest in running the legislation because he is leasing land to a quarry operator. Wilde acknowledges the arrangement with the quarry but said there is no conflict because the operation extracts limestone for cement production, not sand and gravel, and so wouldn’t be affected by the bill.

The Senate Business and Labor Committee voted 5-2 to send the bill to the Senate floor with a favorable recommendation.