SALT LAKE CITY — Despite pushback from Democrats and some Republicans representing concerned residents, a bill that would limit city and counties' regulations of gravel pits is advancing in the Utah Legislature.
HB288, sponsored by Rep. Logan Wilde, R-Croydon, cleared the Utah House on Thursday on a 51-20 vote, mostly along party lines, but with Republicans from areas including Draper and Tooele County casting no votes, expressing concerns the bill favors the gravel industry over neighbors who breathe its dust.
HB288 stems from the stirring controversy over gravel pits along the Wasatch Front. Gravel pits are in high demand to fuel Utah's growth and construction for roads. But where neighborhoods abut gravel pits — such as Geneva Rock's Point of the Mountain gravel pit in Draper — residents decry their noise and dust, and mobilize against expansion.
While some cities are pushing for regulations, residents want operations to move away altogether.
"The bill provides heavy protections to the gravel industry with very little or no regard for residents in the vicinity of gravel extraction pits," argued Rep. Merrill Nelson, R-Grantsville, representing an area where residents have fought noise and debris of gravel pits.
"It gives insufficient protection to local residents who live near these gravel pits," Nelson said. "So when the winds blow they feel the effects of it."
Rep. Jeff Stenquist, R-Draper, a former councilman for the Point of the Mountain city, also rose against HB288, saying that while Wilde worked to address concerns with the bill, residents in his city remain firmly opposed. In Draper, residents have fought expansion of the gravel mining operations along I-15.
"I hope that we can consider the balance between the ability of local government to look out for residents while at the same time making accommodations to the industry," Stenquist said.
But despite that pushback, a majority of House Republicans voted to move the bill forward, arguing it struck an appropriate balance between private property rights and local control, while also ensuring Utah's gravel pits can continue to operate in the Wasatch Front's rapidly growing communities.
"It protects our economy," Wilde argued on the House floor, noting that sand, rock and gravel are important construction materials that will balloon in cost the further they move away.
"Can you imagine if our projects that we have around the state started to double, triple, just due to the fact we moved our gravel pits or our sand out of our communities?" Wilde said. "What this bill says is we need to keep those resources right where they're at."
Yet at the same time, Wilde said his bill "does not give the industry free reign."
Wilde noted that he's worked with the Utah League of Cities and Towns and the Utah Association of Counties to reach a compromise and "tighten" language so the gravel pit protection areas only take effect if the area's city or county council approves a proposal.
"It protects those laws. It protects the public, and it protects the resources there," Wilde said.
Defining rock, sand and gravel as "critical infrastructure materials," Wilde's bill would create special zones that protect existing gravel pits. In those zones, owners would be able to expand or alter operations regardless of city or county restrictions and would be able to expand into nearby property as long as it is allowed by zoning.
Rep. Carl Albrecht, R-Richfield, came to the defense of Wilde's bill, saying the Point of the Mountain gravel pit has "been there for years" before neighborhoods encroached.
"Maybe the blame should be placed upon the developer for buying those lands and trying to squeak every piece of real estate they can out of them, knowing in fact that the gravel pit was there, that when the wind blows they're going to have dust," Albrecht said.
Albrecht added: "Those gravel pits are what make our freeways. They make our yards comfortable … Sometimes we think, 'Oh no, we've got something going on bad here.' Well, let's understand those folks were there for a long time and that the other people moved into the area."
The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration.