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Opinion: We can’t meet Utah’s expanding demand without our quarries

Responsible growth requires a broad view. Utahns should support quarries that provide the resources for their roads, homes, offices and other infrastructure

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Geneva Rock is pictured in Draper on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022.

Geneva Rock is pictured in Draper on Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2022.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

It is well known that many of the toughest issues facing Utah’s state and local governments result from growth, which produces a “good news-bad news” situation. On one hand, it means our job market and economy trend above the national average. On the other, our growth brings a huge range of challenges in everything from education to health care, and from housing to roads, water and sewage treatment.

One of our greatest and most costly growth challenges is efficiently producing the vital raw materials required to build and renew critical infrastructure. But public acceptance of such facilities that produce vital materials like asphalt, concrete and rock aggregate is waning. I understand why people directly affected might feel imposed upon, but responsible growth requires a broader view.

Rock aggregate products are essential for building new homes and businesses, sidewalks, road pavements, utilities, sitework, and for concrete structures, especially for an area growing like the Wasatch Front. This is a subject I know well from my 42-year career working in civil engineering and construction.

We all need and use roads, bridges, housing, hospitals and new businesses. Yet any proposed new materials production facility, or continuing production at existing site, meets heavy resistance from individuals and groups who don’t mind the production, as long as it happens far from them. 

The problem comes in the distance, cost (financial and environmental), accessibility and quality of “somewhere else.” The best, highest quality material sources are determined by geology and geography, not popular preference, and are generally impractical at more remote locations. Some businesses, such as dairies, can be relocated; quality gravel sources cannot.

One ongoing challenge has been the decades-old aggregate quarry located at the Point of the Mountain, which is among the highest quality and most productive quarries in the Intermountain West. Sites like this one, formerly quite remote, are now surrounded by residents who bought their properties fully aware of a nearby quarry. They also clearly benefitted from rebuilding I-15 in Utah County, yet now wish to force such facilities to close. 

Another location at issue is the proposed rock aggregate quarry planned for private land in Parleys Canyon, above Interstate 80, a six-lane interstate freeway that runs through the canyon. Parleys remains a beautiful canyon, but in addition to a major freeway carrying tens of thousands of vehicles each day, it is home to a gated cabin development, a police shooting range, a reception center, an existing quarry and a major golf complex.

Parleys Summit has also seen huge residential and commercial expansion in recent years, requiring aggregate, the same as nearby rebuilds on both I-80 and I-215. The subject quarry site will be far less visible to passersby than the existing quarry located down the canyon. 

Most aggregates are delivered by truck. It is beyond question that reduced transport distances translate into millions of gallons less diesel fuel consumption and hundreds of tons in reduced truck emissions. Shorter distances also mean less traffic congestion overall in the region.

Trucking costs also increase 15 cents per ton for every mile of transport. Since every mile of six-lane highway requires over 110,000 tons of aggregates, each additional mile of transport would mean millions in added costs for projects like the three major highway rebuilds now underway along the Wasatch Front.

Our ongoing, growing need for new and updated vital infrastructure is inevitable. But meeting that need is impossible without rock aggregate that comes exclusively from quarries. State and federal regulations require enormous investments at these facilities to meet environmental and safety standards. That is why these quarries are best operated from highest-quality sources closest to project sites.

As chairman of Utah’s House Transportation Committee, I understand the value of natural resources in developing infrastructure, providing affordable housing, creating jobs and meeting the need for quality rock, sand and gravel products suitable for producing concrete and asphalt. As a civil engineer and contractor, I know that the best companies strive to cooperate with their neighbors and carefully obey all applicable regulations. In the case of the operators in question, reasonable concerns will be addressed and resolved according to law and regulation. 

Just as any infrastructure or development, rock quarries do have an impact; that impact can be minimized and managed, as it has been successfully in the past, and is worth it in terms of our overall quality of life. Each of these quarry sites fulfills the need for premium quality, easily accessible, economical and environmentally sound sources for the rock aggregate products utterly essential to the future infrastructure of a growing Wasatch Front. We must support their safe, clean operation.

Rep. Kay Christofferson, a Republican, is a member of the Utah State House of Representatives from House District 56 and is co-chair of the Interim Transportation Committee. He and his wife live in Lehi.