Dust flew between residents, an excavation company and the city's Planning Commission during a meeting about a request to allow a gravel pit, asphalt plant and cement batch on a 50-acre parcel at the mouth of American Fork canyon.
"In my opinion, after seeing everything, there is going to be a facility there," said Tom Case, a division manager of CPC, which purchased Gibbons and Reed, the company that owned the land in Highland."I've heard everyone say they don't want us. I can understand that. We just want to mitigate the impact to the community."
Case's comments were met with jeers, shouts and groans from the some 150 residents who are fighting the conditional-use permit request.
"Just say no!" yelled a woman to the Planning Commission.
"That's easier said than done," responded Chairman Art Chid-es-ter.
Like Chidester, some city leaders worry county commissioners wouldn't crack down on the operating hours, air quality or how many trucks can be used if a conditional-use permit is requested through the county instead of the City Council and planning panel.
Highland can deny the request, but an appeal would head to the county, which allows natural resource excavation at the proposed location in its zoning codes.
"The county commissioners are going to have a difficult time denying an extraction (request)," Case said, noting that two gravel pits are already in operation in the area.
The Utah Supreme Court ruled 10 years ago that the land's owners could de-annex from the city to open the plant under the direction of the county's regulations. A paperwork mix-up led to unchanged maps, leaving the acreage on the city's land roster.
At the time of the court ruling allowing the company to mine the land, there was one school in the area. Now there are 5,000 students attending three elementary schools, two junior highs and one high school - and residents worry for the safety of the students traveling near the trucks.
Attorney Bruce Baird, retained by a citizens group, said the county commission could impose strict operating regulations that would make it difficult for the company to operate cost effectively.
Or, he said, if taken to court, residents have a chance of winning a ruling the nearby residential area would be unduly damaged if a heavy-production plant was opened along U-92.
At any rate, Baird advised the planning commission, the conditional-use permit should strictly spell out what the city will and won't allow. In addition, the company should present plans about the cement batch and asphalt plant before the gravel-pit operation is given a go-ahead.
"If you are going to approve it, approve it so it is specific," he said.
"You're being asked to open a door and that door shouldn't be opened," he said. "I don't believe current county zones will allow what Gibbons and Reed is proposing."
Commission members plan to review the draft of the conditional use permit this week to decide what recommendation they will make to the City Council.
A few members, though, have already made their opinions known.
"This is at the mouth of one of the most beautiful canyons in the state," said Neil Hadlock, "We gain nothing from this pit. As a member of the Planning Commission, I would rather gamble on the side of the people than on the side of fear."