Brian Moench: Carving new mines in the canyons is intolerable

Claims that a new limestone quarry is needed in the Wasatch Mountains is absurd.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) A Parleys Canyon property owner has proposed operating a massive limestone quarry on a 634-acre parcel at this spot in Parleys Canyon, on Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.

If I were to produce documents proving I had legal, subsurface minerals rights to open a mine underneath Temple Square, how many nanoseconds would it take for the Utah Legislature to go into special session to block such an atrocity? Should everyone relax if I promised to “reclaim” the LDS Temple in 2122, and tossed in a $3 million bond to prove my magnanimity? Something is being plotted that we should all consider equally offensive.

Utah has dozens of iconic assets, natural and manmade, that make irreplaceable contributions to our quality of life and define this state and its people. Temple Square, the Great Salt Lake and the Wasatch Mountains are every bit as important to Salt Lake City as the World Trade Center was to New York City. During the glory days of the Utah Jazz, their jerseys displayed a silhouette of the Wasatch Mountains.

While the World Trade Center, and even the LDS Temple, once destroyed, could be rebuilt, the Wasatch Mountains cannot. And nothing could ever replace them as they provide aesthetic refuge, recreation and watershed for 2.5 million people. Virtually everyone living on the Wasatch Front would consider even the suggestion of carving new mines in the canyons intolerable. The time to not tolerate it has come.

Wealthy property owner Jesse Lassley and Granite Construction, a multi-billion dollar California mining company listed on the NYSE, are attempting to force-feed Salt Lake County residents the mother of all local environmental disasters by bulldozing and blasting in the heart of Parleys Canyon, a gigantic limestone quarry/gravel pit.

According to the Tribune, Lassley recently sold his own home nearby while quietly purchasing 634 acres in the canyon (an area one third as large as the cross section of the Kennecott open pit) and didn’t disclose to any of his neighbors his intent to carve it all into a gigantic hole in the mountainside near Mt. Aire. This was also a surprise to every state and local government agency involved in permitting such a mine.

Neither Lassley nor Granite apparently cares whether they are perceived as community pariahs. At meetings before two different Salt Lake County Planning Commissions, every commenter spoke against the mine, and Lassley and Granite didn’t show up to try and convince anyone otherwise. They must be counting on the courts or the Legislature to do the dirty work for them.

This scheme is so outrageous that many people have a hard time believing they are serious about it, but they are nonetheless. What is not serious is their attempt to justify it. They absurdly claim that Utah will suffer “serious consequences on the environment and economy” if their mine is denied, rationalizing that trucks carrying Utah’s future gravel will have to travel farther, causing an increase in air pollution, road wear and fuel consumption. Nonsense.

The primary areas of future Salt Lake growth, road building, construction and concrete use, will be the West side, Northwest Quadrant and the site of the vacated prison in Draper. This proposed mine is not close to any of that, and large, already existing mines are much closer.

There are dozens of active aggregate mines throughout the Wasatch Front, including the much smaller mine near the mouth of Parley’s Canyon, whose dust already plagues residents near the canyon. Existing mines are closer to just about every potential site of large future building projects or road ways. The mine would be a constant source of fugitive dust exacerbated by frequent Parley’s Canyon winds, and it would decimate and contaminate critical watershed and wildlife habitat. The only place worse for a mine might be the top of Mt. Olympus.

On their website, Lassely claims “I want to be a responsible steward of this land while ensuring its highest and best use.” That the “best use” of Parley’s Canyon by a “responsible steward” would be to blow it up, is Orwellian doublespeak for unmitigated greed and callous disdain for Utah’s priceless natural beauty, and for everyone who lives here. You could say the same about attorneys defending the mine.

We should check state records to see if he has filed for mineral rights under Temple Square. If he offered a $3 million reclamation bond to be activated 100 years from now, just like his Parley’s Canyon offer, that might be barely enough to excavate and “reclaim” Moroni’s trumpet.

Dr. Brian Moench | president, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment

Brian Moench, M.D., Salt Lake City, is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.