Pump house fight in Memory Grove neighborhood takes center stage during Salt Lake City budget hearing

Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune "I wanted to have a voice specifically for the trees," said Katie Pugh, who has lived across the street from the 110-year-old sycamores that she and her husband Nathan cherish. Salt Lake City's Department of Public Utilities has proposed a series of upgrades for its Memory Grove, but neighborhood residents, including Katie and Nathan Pugh say a new pump house the city wants to build is too big, unsightly and threatens to take out several mature trees and ruin the aesthetics of the park.

The Salt Lake City Council decided Tuesday to make funding for a proposal to refurbish the most plentiful drinking water well in Salt Lake City contingent upon a report from the administration on alternatives to the current plan.

Residents in the quiet historic neighborhood just south of the entrance to Memory Grove and City Creek Canyon thanked the council for the move later that night during a public hearing on the budget.

But a large number continued to express concerns over the possible effects of the Fourth Avenue Pump House project — including noise pollution, a loss of green space, a potential decline in property values, plans to chlorinate the well’s water on-site and the building’s modern design.

“We know the area to be just the essence of what a great residential neighborhood and park environment can be,” said Ivan Weber, who owns two properties near the area. “And now the city proposes to plunk an industrial facility, complete with unceasing low noise and possible waves of toxic odors, with certain waves of maintenance traffic right in the front yard. This is anything but trivial.”

Comments on the pump house were the overwhelming focus of the city’s second public hearing on its 2019-2020 budget, which the council is required to pass by June 30.

City officials say the refurbishing of the well — which provides a staggering 3 to 7 million gallons daily in summer months — has to happen for the good of the public and is crucial to keeping the city’s water system resilient, as well as meeting demand in the growing downtown area, around Capitol Hill and at Salt Lake City International Airport.

They have sought since 2017 to make the 76-year-old water source safer for employees and customers and to bring it up to regulation. But in response to residents’ concerns, they had already scaled back plans for a new 2,000-square-foot utility building over the well, located in a park at North Canyon Road and Fourth Avenue.

Several aspects of the well don’t meet state and federal regulations, and officials say the need to upgrade its electrical system is triggering a much wider overhaul, including bringing the well’s casing above ground, requiring a building around it. They also need to make it more safely accessible by maintenance workers without risk of electrocution.

City Councilman Chris Wharton, whose district spans Memory Grove and other areas of the city’s northeast bench, said Tuesday that the council “absolutely recognizes the health issues related to the Fourth Avenue Well, the importance of the water supply and the safety concerns of the existing facility.”

But his proposal seeks to find a compromise by requiring the Department of Public Utilities bringing forward a design that has a smaller footprint on the park and could reduce noise concerns before the council will provide project funding.

The design proposal calls for refurbishing the well, putting in new electrical, pumping and chlorine-injection systems and building an 800-square-foot pump house with a driveway, which would cost about $3 million.

Because the well is at a nexus of several of Salt Lake City’s historic districts, the design and wider effects of the new building will need approval from the city’s powerful Historic Landmark Commission. The commission is scheduled to further consider the project at its Thursday meeting.