Draper Planning Commission recommends against Geneva Rock mining expansion plan at Point of the Mountain

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Geneva Rock's operation at Point of the Mountain on Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020.

Draper • Geneva Rock’s renewed attempt to expand its mining operations at the Point of the Mountain through a proposed zone change got a unanimous negative recommendation from the City Planning Commission late Thursday.

Geneva has “got solutions to their problems but they don’t have any solutions to our problems,” said Commission Chairman Andrew Adams.

While the commission indicated the proposal needs more work, it still could be approved by the City Council.

The recommendation brought a mixed reaction from the gathered crowd of more than 100 people, with some viewing it as a win, but others not optimistic that the fight is far from over.

This is the second time the company has tried rezone the area, located in Draper and bordering Lehi.

The proposal has been met with fierce opposition from residents and air quality activists since 2018, when the company tried to expand its operations by 73 acres. However, it died during its first public hearing because the company dramatically reduced the proposed acreage, causing Draper Mayor Troy Walker to ask the company to proceed with its original proposal or withdraw and submit a new proposal with the reduced acreage.

Geneva ultimately decided to withdraw the proposal and try again at a later date.

That later date came Thursday as activists, Draper residents and Geneva officials packed the hearing at Draper City Hall to consider the revised proposal — now 27 acres — and allow the public to voice concerns and ask questions.

“I don’t dare take my daughter outside because of the pollution,” Audrey Albrecht, a Draper resident, said at the hearing. “I want to stand up for my daughter because she’s not old enough to stand up for herself. If I can’t breathe the air, then what’s the point of living here?"

John Macfarlane, a neurosurgeon and member of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, is unhappy with Draper’s decision to revisit the issue.

“It’s frustrating because we got the [Draper] City Council to weigh in on the subject and they were very clear they didn’t want Geneva to mine those areas because of its location and the increased population in the area,” Macfarlane said in an interview.

He said allowing Geneva to expand its mining operations at the Point of the Mountain would be “increasingly dangerous” for residents in Lehi and Draper because of the silica found in the mining dust. Silica is a known carcinogen, and Macfarlane says it has been found to negatively impact brain development in fetuses and has been linked to brain disorders like dementia.

Adrian Dybwad, a concerned Draper resident who lives next to Geneva’s operation, said he and other residents are strongly opposed to the proposal. He is suspicious of Geneva’s intentions with the 27 acres pointing to the mass grading the company did a couple of years ago.

“Instead of asking for a mining permit, Geneva went ahead and just started mass grading — aka mining — without input from Draper or Lehi residents,” he said. “The move was meant to prevent the public from giving their input.”

Further complicating the matter is HB288, which passed the state Legislature last year. The bill essentially strips local municipalities’ power to regulate established mining operations within their boundaries when cities and mining companies can’t come to an agreement.

If Draper City and Geneva Rock don’t reach an agreement, the city has warned, then the state will likely intervene, superseding the city’s authority on the issue.

Muriel Xochimitl, Draper City spokeswoman, said that Geneva’s application has undergone a rigorous review process by several experts and departments in the city.

“We want to make sure that the interests of our residents are considered while preserving the rights of private property owners,” she said.

While the proposal is asking to develop 27 acres, the company wants to reserve about 50 acres as open space for future development. Geneva also plans to give another 64 acres to Draper as open space.

The proposal says that the 50 acres of potential development will likely be used for residential and commercial development. However, Dave Kallas, a spokesman for Geneva, said that the company could potentially ask for a rezone to mine that area.

“Area 3 isn’t being requested for mining, but we did want to preserve the ability to use that for further development,” Kallas said.