Paul Van Dam: Philanthropists should not be backing dangerous mining projects

I recently discovered that a large frac sand mine is being considered for an area of unique natural beauty not far from Zion National Park and the historic western town of Kanab. I was surprised to find that Kem Gardner and his company are funding this destructive and polluting project.

Ex-state Rep. Mike Noel confirmed Gardner’s backing of this frac sand mine publicly in a meeting of the Kane County Planning Commission on July 10. Noel, who has been pushing the unaffordable and unnecessary Lake Powell pipeline for years, has also arranged to sell large amounts of Kanab’s drinking water to the proposed mine, resulting in a serious risk to that community’s water supply.

I grew up in Salt Lake City, became the county’s district attorney, and later the attorney general of Utah. Over many years, I have respected Kem Gardner’s community-oriented businesses and philanthropic contributions to the Wasatch Front. This is why is does not make sense that the Gardner Company would be backing a frac sand mine that will ruin a natural landscape adjacent to a national park, and deplete the culinary water supply of a small desert town. Building a frac sand mining project that has a clear history of air and water pollution in other areas of our country simply does not fit with what I have seen of the Gardner family.

The Gardner company website begins with the statement, “Building Community.” Building a frac sand mine will harm the community of Kanab, not build it.

The homepage of the Gardner Energy – Alternative Energy Services website states their objective, “Bringing Clean Energy to Your World.” Neither frac sand mining nor fracking for oil is a clean industry.

In recent news, the Kem Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah has been tasked by the Utah Legislature to find ways to improve air quality. It is clear that Gardner and his family value community service and clean energy. For them to be financing this mine just doesn’t make sense.

Perhaps the Gardners do not have complete information on the risky and destructive nature of frac sand production. Their proposed mine will be a massive project, with the potential to extend to more than 12,000 acres of mining claims covering the scenic coral pink sand hills to the southeast of Zion Park. The mine would run day and night with up to 192 truck trips per day traveling on Utah Heritage Highway 89. This two-lane road is a major route for both Utahns and people from around the world who come to visit southwest Utah and our national parks.

In addition to digging up a wide area of natural beauty, the mine’s sand washing facility would include six massive silos 120 feet tall, and settling ponds to collect water containing toxic chemicals. If these ponds leak, this pollution will infiltrate the area’s only water aquifer. Dust from frac sand mines is a well known carcinogen that can easily blow into Kane County areas including Kanab and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, one of the world’s largest non-profit animal welfare organizations.

It is my hope that Kem Gardner and the Gardner Company will re-evaluate their plan to build this frac sand mine near Zion National Park and Kanab. There are more appropriate places to locate this mine.

Better yet, why not employ the Gardner family’s expertise and philanthropic capacity to bring clean energy to southwest Utah? This is certainly more fitting than the ruinous frac sand mine that is currently being considered.

Paul Van Dam

Paul Van Dam is a former district attorney of Salt Lake County and attorney general of Utah. He is retired, lives in southern Utah and serves on the board of Conserve Southwest Utah.