A roomful of South Rim residents were in an uproar after a 2-1 vote by the Tooele County Commission that will allow a gravel company to operate a pit across the street from their rural neighborhood.
The County Commission approved an agreement Tuesday night that will allow Southside Gravel to extract gravel from a 176-acre parcel that is south of Silver Avenue and the South Rim residential development southwest of Stockton.
One South Rim resident came close to being arrested for interrupting the meeting.
Shouts of “Illegal,” “What compromise is this?,” “You haven’t listened,” and “Corrupt,” came from the audience following the announcement of the vote.
Commission Chairman Wade Bitner asked for the audience to come to order. A voice yelled out “No,” from the group.
However, the crowd began to settle down, but Scott Hunter persisted to speak.
“Kick them out. They’re doing something illegal,” Hunter told the deputy sheriff who asked him to leave the meeting if he was going to continue to talk.
“I’m not leaving,” Hunter said. “I have something to say and I have the proof and they need to see it.”
Given the choice of either leaving or being arrested, Hunter chose to leave.
Outside the meeting, Hunter continued to protest the County Commission’s approval of what he called an illegal agreement.
“The county’s hired attorney said that because Southside will be following the agreement the use will be legal nonconforming,” Hunter said. “That’s a circular argument. There is no legal claim for a nonconforming use.”
The county has a copy of a statement from the Russell family, who owned the property from the 1930s until 1997, stating that they only used their land for sheep grazing, according to Hunter.
Hunter also said that Jay Harwood, manager of Southside Gravel, LLC, signed an application for greenbelt property tax status for the property in 2016 stating that for the last 10 years the property was used for grazing cows.
“A nonconforming use is not valid after the use has been discontinued for one or more years,” Hunter said. “There is no legal claim for a nonconforming use for gravel extraction on this property.”
Prior to voting on the agreement, the county heard from its outside legal counsel, Jody Burnett, with the Salt Lake City-based firm of Snow Christensen & Martineau. He was hired specifically for advice on the Southside Gravel Pit and nonconforming gravel extraction in the county.
Burnett said the reason for the agreement was to settle a disputed claim and avert what could be a costly lawsuit.
“The commission is not here to adjudicate the legal merits on either side of this equation,” Burnett said. “The whole concept is that this is a compromise of a disputed claim. I readily recognize that it is a hotly contested dispute.”
The agreement allows for gravel extraction from Southside’s property, but only under the terms of the agreement, which are more favorable to the county than what would happen if the county litigated the claim and lost, according to Burnett.
Some of those terms include limits on the hours and days of operation, designating Tooele County as the point of sale for sales tax collection, and honoring the South Rim Development agreement that calls for the closure and remediation of a portion of the property.
Health impacts, such as dust control, water quality, and water runoff, are regulated by state agencies, according to Burnett.
“There is no reason to duplicate the state regulations already in place in this agreement,” he said.
The agreement that was considered by the County Commission two weeks ago included references to a future concrete batch plant and a hot asphalt plant. Those references have been removed from the agreement, Burnett said.
County commissioners Bitner and Shawn Milne voted to approve the agreement. Commissioner Myron Bateman opposed the agreement.
Bateman said he had concerns about the gravel operation being too close to homes with potential health hazards.
Tooele County Attorney Scott Broadhead released a written statement about the Southside Gravel issue on Wednesday, the day after the County Commission meeting.
A gravel pit has existed on the property since 1959, according to Broadhead.
The Russell’s deeded a 10-acre parcel containing a gravel pit to the county in 1978. The county put the boundaries of that 10-acre parcel on a 1966 map. The results show that the gravel pit did not originate on the 10-acre parcel, but on the larger 160-acre parcel, Broadhead said.
Broadhead also stated that when Southside Gravel became interested in purchasing the 10-acre and 160-acre parcels, it asked the county for a determination of the legal status for gravel extraction on the properties.
In October 2014, the county’s planner issued a letter stating that the land had a legally grandfathered use and approved a new 5-year operation plan for both parcels. Southside relied on that letter in making the decision to purchase the two parcels, according to Broadhead.
“Finally, I can speak for the commission and myself, that we would have preferred to either close or greatly restrict the gravel extraction on this property in South Rim,” Broadhead said. “It would have been a politically popular decision. However, such a decision would expose the county to a significant risk of monetary damages and attorney fees. The commission believes that the decision to settle this matter is consistent with the advice of Mr. Burnett and is in the best interest of the county.”
Heather Kessler, South Rim resident, used the public comment period at the end of the county commission meeting to address the commissioners.
“If you guys sign this agreement, I’m like really not in favor of this thing,” she said. “I don’t think you guys realize what you’re doing to us. If you look at studies that have been done when there is pits this close to residential neighborhoods, and I understand what the attorney said about regulations, but this close to a neighborhood, animals and people have gotten cancer from that. We built here not thinking there was not going to be a pit there. I can’t dig up my home and move it. We have to suffer the consequences.”