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Mapleton considers adjusting city boundaries for development

A developer wants to build homes at the site of the old Ensign-Bickford explosives plant near Spanish Fork Canyon.
A developer wants to build homes at the site of the old Ensign-Bickford explosives plant near Spanish Fork Canyon.
Stuart Johnson, Deseret News

MAPLETON — How much risk is too much risk?

That was the thorny question that was discussed for several hours Wednesday as the Mapleton City Council listened to arguments why it should work with Spanish Fork to modify city boundaries and bring the infamous Ensign-Bickford land into the city.

For more than six decades, various companies — including Trojan Corp. and Ensign-Bickford — manufactured explosives there until officials discovered contaminated water wells in Mapleton, a few miles north of the site.

Several south Mapleton residents, including former Mayor Marilyn Peterson, developed cancer and some died after suing Ensign-Bickford.

A plume of contaminated water moving north from the site was discovered, leading to a 1997 settlement with Mapleton that included flushing the aquifer through another city well. That water is now used in a pressurized irrigation system, which Ensign-Bickford built.

Dissatisfied with the settlement, Mapleton sued Ensign-Bickford again in 2006 for $100 million, but that suit was dismissed.

Manufacturing ended in February 2006 and the site has been cleaned up, state officials say.

Now, developer Jack Evans wants to partner with Ensign-Bickford to build a 600-acre housing community on the site, along with a strip of commercial buildings along U.S. 6. Developers had taken the project to Spanish Fork, but Evans turned to Mapleton to modify the boundary between the two cities because it would be less expensive to run a sewer line to the site from Mapleton than Spanish Fork, Mapleton Mayor Laurel Brady said. Both cities dump into Spanish Fork's sewer treatment plant.

Mapleton officials called a public meeting June 30 and again on Wednesday to discuss whether the city should modify the boundary.

"During the June 30 meeting, I realized we had no information specific to the contamination," Brady said.

Brad Maulding of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality noted that after manufacturing ceased, the state investigated and found 44 sites that needed cleanup.

Two methods were used — either hauling the highly contaminated dirt to a landfill near Price, where it was processed, or taking treated, low-level contaminated soil to a 6-acre northern location on Ensign-Bickford land, where it has been piled up and will be capped with 2 feet of clean dirt and revegetated, Maulding said. The area is along a fault line.

No development will ever be allowed in that location, he said.

Excavation ranged from digging 30 feet in some locations to about 100 feet in others.

"The highest concentrations (of contaminated soil) have been removed," Maulding said.

Although the state says the site has been cleaned, several residents said it still wasn't worth the risk or the liability to the city.

The city is going from zero liability "to a bunch," Mapleton resident David Nemelka said of the proposal.

However, if the city accepts the boundary change, it can control how it's developed, Brady said, rejecting Nemelka's argument that the city could become liable.

"The contamination will always be the responsibility of Ensign-Bickford," she said.

The state is near the end of the remediation process, Maulding said. Some areas are ready for development, while others will always be restricted. The state will monitor the capped area.

Spanish Fork Mayor Joe Thomas told the Deseret News that Evans' development will likely go forward whether the boundary line changes or not. If Mapleton rejects the boundary change, Evans will need to build a longer sewer line.

A boundary change would give Mapleton highway frontage along U.S. 6, where future businesses could be located and boost the city's tax base. With Mapleton tucked away from a major highway, "it has no chance for commercial development," Thomas said.