Brian Moench: Gov. Cox, protect your legacy by protecting Parleys

Dust pollution is front and center in people’s concerns.

(Leah Hogsten | The Salt Lake Tribune) The area in Parleys Canyon where Granite Construction is proposing to excavate a limestone quarry, Wednesday, July 27, 2022.

Many Utahns believe our state is a special place to live. If states were students in a classroom, we would feel “gifted” compared to the others, “blessed” some would say. There are a handful of iconic assets, natural and manmade, that contribute to making us feel special, that define Utah and enrich our lives. Great Salt Lake, Temple Square and the Wasatch Mountains are every bit as important to Salt Lake City as the World Trade Center was to New York City. But, unlike the World Trade Center, once destroyed, the Wasatch Mountains cannot be rebuilt, or reclaimed, and nothing could ever replace them.

To Salt Lake Valley residents who value their quality of life, even the suggestion of destroying more of Parleys Canyon to mine common gravel is unthinkable. But leave it up to multi-billion dollar California corporation, Granite Construction and Parleys property owner, Jesse Lassley, to make it very much thinkable. What thinking they have done is only about themselves, and how much money they’ll make exploiting Utah’s weak mining laws, and forcing the state surrender to their demands. And surrender is exactly what the state is doing. All three relevant agencies, DOGM, DAQ and UDOT are raising the white (soon to be dust-covered) flag.

Nearly 27,000 people have signed an opposition petition, far more than any other environmental petition in our history. The reasons are obvious. Dust pollution is front and center in people’s concerns. Once inhaled the dust has similar health consequences as other types of air pollution. The scarred hillside will be a source of dust for as long as the mine operates and for decades afterwards. Drought, dust and dust suppression chemicals like magnesium chloride, will combine to threaten and injure the remaining vegetation that is not bulldozed in the beginning. Damage to the remaining trees will go far beyond the mine’s boundaries.

The DAQ acknowledges in their intent to approve (ITA), “the large volume of water” required for dust suppression. But it’s never adequate. Gravel pits are one of the most common reasons the public contacts our physicians group, asking for help in fighting the dust pollution. There will be water loss, impaired water quality, damage to the watershed that provides 20% of Salt Lake residents water and utter ruin of the aesthetic appeal and recreation value of the canyon, the eastern gateway to our capital city. As Olympic bid czar Frazier Bullock has pointed out, not a good look for a city that wants to showcase itself as a sparkling, pristine Winter Olympics venue.

After a tepid rebuff by the state on their 634-acre bid, Granite is settling for a staged approach to get what they want. Twenty acres to get their foot in the door, then expand into all the property that will have become instantly cheaper once those 20 acres have been denuded of all life forms.

Despite Utah law, written by legislators to cater to mining interests, these state agencies still have some discretion on whether to sign off on this looming disaster. But they are tying their own hands behind their back. Instead of the state intervening to stop this assault, it is holding Granite’s coat while they do it in broad daylight. If the state cannot or will not prevent such an outcome, Utah will become the poster child of failed government.

Utah Gov. Spencer Cox is in charge of these agencies, and he is well aware of the wide spread, justifiable public opposition to the mine. We are reminded of interventions by former Utah governors that prevented massive environmental damage. Jon Huntsman intervened on the Defense Department’s proposed “Divine Strake” bomb testing in 2006 and helped stop the petroleum coke burning power plant at Holly Oil in 2009. Gary Herbert intervened on the out-of-control medical waste incinerator, Stericycle, and the Las Vegas water grab that would have drained aquifers in northern Nevada and turned the Great Basin Desert into a perpetual dust bowl. In every case, it was citizen pressure that moved them to finally do the right thing.

Gov. Cox, you might not want your legacy to be the hideous destruction of Utah’s priceless canyons. At the mine’s public hearing on June 22, citizens will protest, entice and persuade you to be the leader your predecessors were.

(Brian Moench)

Dr. Brian Moench has had a 42 year career in clinical medicine, and has been working for a cleaner environment for Utahns for the last 20 years.