Lehi • After many months of feeling ignored by city leaders, some residents and their kids are picking up sidewalk chalk to convey their dismay about a project they say would create a de facto gravel pit near their homes.
On walkways all over Lehi, local mothers-turned-activists and their children have been giving artistic expression to their concerns about letting Geneva Rock haul away gravel from a site in the Traverse Mountain community.
“Welcome to the city of Geneva,” the Lehi City Hall steps proclaimed Saturday in a range of pastels.
Members of the group Lehi Moms and Allies for Clean Air contend the grading operation at Traverse Mountain would kick up dust in an area where air quality is already compromised by existing gravel pits.
"We just feel it's reckless to even think about proceeding before an environmental health study ... has actually been done," Angie Parkin, co-founder of Lehi Moms, said in a Tuesday interview.
One member of her coalition has battled lung cancer, while another suffers with asthma, and both are worried the dust pollution is a factor in their health problems.
The group also believes airborne particles tossed up by mining could threaten their children’s respiratory wellness. Parkin said an elementary school sits less than half a mile from the proposed project site, and existing homes are a mere 50 feet away from it.
So she and others are urging the city to stop the gravel extraction before it starts.
Geneva Rock spokesman Dave Kallas says critics of the project have improperly labeled it as a gravel pit expansion when it is actually a grading operation to prepare the site for housing. The developer in this case turned to Geneva to flatten the site over the next few years before construction can begin.
Their plan is to load the gravel onto a conveyor belt that will carry it over to Geneva's pit a short distance away, saving the developer the trouble of trucking the material offsite.
The arrangement is also a win for Geneva, which can use this gravel to make concrete and asphalt. But that doesn't make it a mining operation, Kallas said, noting that the development approvals require Geneva to wrap up grading within three years.
"A mine is a permanent installation that is intended to extract all the resources until the resource has been removed," Kallas said. "This is being graded to a site-specific plan with the intention of building on it."
However, Carolyn Hoffert, who lives in Traverse Mountain, said even existing mine operations stir up a significant amount of dust, and tearing up the ground next door to her neighborhood will only make matters worse.
“Sometimes, so much wind is blowing off the mine that I can’t see the mountains on the other side. And that’s really depressing,” Hoffert said Tuesday, as her 10-year-old daughter Felicity worked to shade in a pink heart on the pavement outside City Hall.
"I heart clean air," the message read.
Crystalline silica dust generated by mining operations has been linked to various health risks, and state health officials have advised conducting a roughly yearlong community health assessment of construction and mining activities near the Point of the Mountain gravel operation.
But residents say the city has pushed forward to allow the grading project without any such health analysis.
Frustrated after hitting a series of brick walls, they landed on the idea of a sidewalk art protest.
"We've honestly tried all the normal channels as far as the emailing ... and going to city council meetings. ... And we just have not been heard," Parkin said. "And thus, sidewalk chalk is just something creative and fun and something kids can do."
Kallas said the grading and development project has received all the necessary city approvals, but a date to begin work at the site hasn’t been set. A city spokeswoman confirmed that the final agreement between the developer and the city was signed in February but declined further comment.