The battle between the nine explosives manufacturing plants located west of Utah Lake and adjacent landowners is about a year old, and Utah County commissioners say they will try to end it once and for all this month.
On July 12, commissioners will decide whether to eliminate explosives plants from all county zones or to continue to allow them in mining and grazing zones. Their decision likely depends on an opinion from the county attorney's office on whether existing plants would be allowed to expand or modify.Commissioners Richard Johnson and Gary Herbert said they want to keep new plants out of the county, but they believe the existing plants should be allowed to expand for safety reasons and to remain competitive in their markets. Commissioner Malcolm Beck said the plants are not an asset to the county and he doesn't think they should be allowed to expand.
Adjacent property owners want the plants eliminated or, at the very least, want their operations restricted. They say the plants are dangerous and that open-air test blasting is damaging property throughout the county. They also claim the plants are decreasing the value of surrounding property and are deterring development in the area.
"No matter how careful these plants try to be, the explosives industry is dangerous," said Mark Jacob, who owns land west of Utah Lake.
Officials from the explosives plants say their industry is safe and that they contribute several million dollars to the local economy each year. They say they are being blamed for damage and noise for which they are not responsible.
"We've spent a lot of money researching ways to improve our testing and we anticipate a significant noise reduction as a result of these efforts," said Jay Anderson, vice president of IRECO Inc.
Last year, the Utah County Planning Commission recommended that the plants be deleted as a conforming use in all zones. Existing plants would be allowed to operate as non-conforming uses, but could not expand or modify.
An advisory committee agreed that no new plants should be allowed, but said existing plants should be allowed to expand. Commissioners sent the issue back to the Planning Commission and asked it to develop an ordinance that implemented the advisory committee's recommendations. The Planning Commission, however, recently sent the matter back to commissioners with its original recommendation to delete explosives plants as a conforming use.
"It would be contrary to logic to go against the Planning Commission's recommendation," Jacob told commissioners at a public hearing Wednesday.
However, if the county attorney's office rules the plants as non-conforming uses cannot expand, it would prevent the plants from implementing the safety and noise-reduction measures that the property owners are seeking.
"We might be defeating the purpose the citizens are fighting for," Herbert said.
If commissioners decide to allow explosives plants as a conforming use, they likely would add strict safety and buffer zone requirements to the zoning ordinance. The county attorney's office said noise from testing at the plants could be regulated through provisions in the county's nuisance ordinance.