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Utah County puts off mining decision

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A decision to ban industrial mining on lands deemed critical environment was delayed Wednesday by Utah County commissioners for up to 30 days.

"I have reservations about cutting out all mining in critical environment areas. We may be shortsighted to restrict all mining," said Commissioner Gary Herbert. "Sometime in the next 30 days we will give a thumbs up or thumbs down on this issue."Commissioners Herbert, David Gardner and Jerry Grover agreed after a three-hour public hearing that legal issues swirling around zoning requirements for sand- and gravel-pit operations, as well as patent mining in Utah County foothills, need to be addressed before a vote.

The trio must weigh concerns of residents who worry proposed gravel pits in critical environmental areas would increase heavy-truck traffic and endanger the quality of wildlife, air and water, while also respecting the legal rights of landowners.

"I don't know if it's black-and-white like people make it to be," Herbert said. "There are shades of gray."

County planning commissioners have twice sent a revision to the zoning code regarding critical-environment lands to the three-man governing panel. The proposed text change would delete mining from the code's list of permitted conditional uses in such areas.

Highland, Alpine, Genola and Santaquin residents pleaded for the ordinance change. The cities now are waging battle with construction companies planning to open extraction plants in Utah County to keep pace with Utah's housing boom demands.

"The stand of Highland City is opposing mining in urban areas. We are residential, schools are in the area and we are the gateway to American Fork Canyon," said Highland Mayor Jess Adamson. "We don't think (mining) is a proper use of the land."

Attorney Bruce Baird, retained by a citizens group fighting the proposed Highland pit, said extraction plants have every right to open in lands zoned for mining and grazing.

But pristine areas, protected by zoning ordinances for identified abundant natural resources, shouldn't be considered for such heavy industrial land use, Baird said.

"I don't think it is a zone that allows raping and pillaging," he said. "Degradation sounds exactly like what a gravel pit is."

Baird, confident the law is on the side of residents asking for the text change, urged the commission to ask for legal opinions from experienced attorneys in land-use issues.

Construction companies likely would not be able to mount a successful court case unless they could prove the county took away "all value from their land" by erasing the current clause, he said.

Tom Case, a division manager for Concrete Products, a subsidiary of Gibbons and Reed, the California-based company planning to open a pit at the mouth of American Fork Canyon, said critical environment zones offer the most natural resources for companies.

A crackdown in such areas could drastically harm businesses and jobs, he said. Case also said a study should be conducted in the next month to determine what type of impact a change in the zoning laws would have on the local economy.