Pervasive illegal dumping leads Salt Lake City to consider closing a portion of 2100 South near sensitive wetlands

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Tires and garbage along 2100 South near 7200 West. The Salt Lake City Council is considering a temporary closure for a portion of road on 2100 South between 6500 West and 6900 West as a result of pervasive illegal dumping. Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019.

The Salt Lake City Council will decide in the next few weeks whether to temporarily close a portion of public road on 2100 South between 6500 West and 6900 West — a response to pervasive illegal dumping several government agencies say is creating unsafe conditions.

Tires, trash and other debris are not a new problem in this area, which is in an “extremely isolated” location next to vacant property and sensitive wetlands, city staff told council members during a work session briefing on the issue Tuesday.

Those features, as well as proximity to the landfill and a lack of lighting in the area, have contributed to frequent incidents of dumping going as far back as the mid-1980s by people who can’t be bothered to pay the tipping and disposal fees needed to properly discard of their waste.

“It’s such a convenient place; it’s so isolated and dark that it’s just really easy to go out there and dump this and it kind of seems like once you’ve got a seed pile there of trash, it just keeps building,” Salt Lake County Health Department representative Tom Trevino said during the briefing.

The city has partnered with some of the concerned entities to clean up the area, and the Salt Lake City Police Department has tried to put up cameras to stop the illegal dumping. But efforts to eradicate the problem have fallen short, and involved entities now hope that the up to one-year road closure would offer the chance to implement additional oversight measures.

The County Health Department, state Department of Natural Resources, Salt Lake City Police Department and West Valley City have all written letters to the council in support of the closure.

“We believe that closing the road will allow for time to reevaluate the area and make a plan moving forward,” West Valley Assistant City Manager Nicole Cottle wrote to the city.

Several council members expressed support for the measure Tuesday, but a decision is not expected to come until after a public hearing scheduled for next month.

The county Health Department and other government partners conducted a $50,000 cleanup at this site last year, which resulted in the removal of nearly 4,000 tires and 132 tons of solid waste, according to city documents. Those items have caused “substantial environmental degradation” in this sensitive wetlands area and represent a “compelling public health concern,” the department said in its letter to the council.

Uncontained tires can cultivate an “ideal habitat to produce and harbor mosquitoes and rodents.” And because they don’t biodegrade or compact, tires are also combustible and leach chemical residues into water and soils.

Beyond those concerns, a representative from the Salt Lake City police department said Tuesday that the area also represents a public safety concern, fostering wrongdoing beyond illegal dumping.

“It’s a perfect haven for people to come and do crimes,” Sgt. Sam Wolf told the council, noting that the department has seen drug paraphernalia and “remnants of other crimes.”

But police have struggled to patrol the area because of its remoteness and lack of electricity — the latter of which they hope can be addressed following the road closure. If it’s approved, the Health Department also said it plans to partner with city police to provide “enhanced oversight” at the location, including electronic surveillance.

Utah code allows a municipality to temporarily close class C roads to “mitigate unsafe conditions” as long as the closure does not impair the rights-of-way or easements of any property owner and the franchise rights of any public utility.

The closure would change access to businesses on 2100 South between around 6100 West and 7200 West but would not eliminate it, according to the city.

Before approving the ordinance, the city has to hold a hearing on the proposed closure, which is expected to take place Oct. 18, and to provide notice of the hearing by mailing a notice to the Utah Department of Transportation and to all the owners abutting the highway.