A plan to mine rock and other materials in Parleys Canyon has drawn concern and questions from residents and even officials from Utah's capital city, who say they feel out of the loop about the project.
Tree Farm LLC, a company based in Salt Lake City, submitted a notice of intent to the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining for a mining operation in the canyon earlier this month. The company first filed an application on Nov. 12 and then clarified questions the division had last week.
The total size of the proposed mine, referred to as Silver Mine, would be about 20 acres of land located north of Grandeur Peak and west of Mount Aire in Parleys Canyon, according to multiple documents filed by the company. Tree Farm LLC owns close to 640 acres of land in the canyon, including the location of the proposed mine. Crews would extract rock, sand, gravel, limestone, cement and precious metals, according to the division.
The land that Tree Farm owns is surrounded by a mix of private and public lands. Per the documents, the company alerted its neighbors, including the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management, about the intent to mine.
However, the plan has received backlash as the details have come to light. Joel Wyner, who lives by Mount Aire and not far from the proposed mine, says he's disturbed by the idea of heavy equipment driving down areas close to his and other homes in the area. That's on top of other issues he has with the plan.
"It's going to create dynamite blasting, which will affect our watershed," he added. "We use springs to take care of our needs and we're very protective of our springs. This is going to damage it. Wildlife is going to be severely impacted (by) this."
Necia Emery, a resident in Salt Lake Valley, says she drives through the canyon almost every day, including to her job in Park City. As a commuter, she's worried about what trucks coming in and out of the mine would mean for traffic and the roads that have already struggled with congestion issues.
But as a resident of the valley, she also thinks of what mining may mean for water and air quality, as well as the many — protected and unprotected — critters that call the canyon home. The land where the mine is located isn't upstream from the Salt Lake Valley water supply but it is located between a pair of reservoirs in the area and valley, with water flowing into Salt Lake City. The canyon is important for all sorts of wildlife.
"I'm concerned about my water in Salt Lake and very concerned about my water up here, and the wildlife too. ... It's detrimental to the air, to the traffic, to the community," she said.
Laura Briefer, the director of the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities, said on Monday that her department is still reviewing the proposal, which is over 300 pages. Since the water is treated upstream, it's likely not a risk for the city's drinking water.
But there are other potential water issues, including the impact it may have on Parleys Creek and what that might mean for recreation and wildlife associated with it. There are also stormwater discharge requirements in Salt Lake City for the creek as it flows downstream. She says the document says there will be mitigation efforts but it's not clear what those will be.
Another issue comes down to who owns the water used for mining operations. Salt Lake City owns the water rights upstream and in the area, and Briefer said the document didn't clarify how the mine would get the water it needs and how it planned on using it for operations. The proposal states that water would be used to help reduce dust particles flying around but she said it isn't clear where that water would come from, either.
"The concern we would have there is potential impairment of the city's water rights within that system," she said. "We don't serve water to that area and they haven't approached us to be a water provider, either. We just have questions about where the water resources to support the project would be coming from and whether that would have an impact (on) the city."
Briefer also shares many of the concerns brought up by residents in the area, such as pollution and air quality impacts. An online petition against the mine proposal was launched Sunday and it gained close to 2,500 signatures by 7 p.m. Monday. It adds that there was no "public input" in the process, in addition to many of the concerns outlined by residents like Wyner and Emery.
Jesse Lassley, the owner of Tree Farm, said the document outlines the mitigation plans aimed to address environmental concerns, including a retention pond to filter out sediment and good housekeeping measures to avoid chemical seepage. The mine would also be hidden from the highway and there will be plans to help avoid wildlife disruption.
As for why the proposal didn't include public comment, a spokesperson for the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining said in a statement that because the proposal is deemed small, at 20 acres on unincorporated land, the state administrative code says the division "shall approve a small mine (notice of intent) as long as the operator has met all the requirements listed in rule, including submitting complete operations, (a) reclamation plan and posting an adequate bond.
"Per the Utah Administrative Code, there is no public comment period associated with small mine NOIs," the statement continued. "However, the division accepts comments from the public at any time regarding questions and/or concerns."
While the small mine doesn't require public comment, local officials and residents fear the small mine may just the beginning in Parleys Canyon. The plan indicates future operations are expected for other parts of the mine in the future, totaling most of the acres owned by the company.
Briefer said city public utilities don't often deal with mining operations, which is why the department was caught off guard. Since the department does most of its work with federal agencies, it is are used to a public notification process before any project is conducted either by them or by others. While this example involves private land, she says it's close enough to public interests that it would have benefited the community if there was a warning beforehand.
"There might be something to adding more of a public process, especially as our state continues to grow and we've got a lot of people in area, the interface of the urban area and water resources are tight," she said. "Having some additional public process for a project of this size — particularly the large-sized future phase — I think that would be very helpful in identifying the issues of concern, how they will be mitigated and if the applicant has done a good job in terms of identifying those issues."
As for submitting public comment, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas & Mining said emails about any oil, gas or mining project can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributing: Mike Anderson and Mark Wetzel