Call it by any name you want, but lack of civility, courtesy, manners or peaceful considerations are driving Tooele County folks toward costly legal entanglements (see Tooele Transcript Bulletin issues of Aug. 15 and Sept. 5, 12, 19, 21).
When manners fail, we get regulations with their negative impact on freedom. Fault follows the Tooele County Commissioners now petitioning for more taxes while avoiding resolution to a controversy that is employing lawyers at a taxpayer-funded rate of about $760 an hour. This expense is independent of any lawsuit cost. The county’s rural mentality, combined with its big city spending, is about to dirty many hands.
I’m speaking about the controversy of the South Rim gravel pit, only one of about 15 such county dust monsters. Past commissioners some years ago granted to ranching family members owning property in that area a quit claim deed for a land parcel that supports the contested pit. That working pit has existed through successive development agreements to profit its original rancher-owners.
However, it is the current operator/owner of the pit who currently is being held responsible for degrading quality of life and local property values for the South Rim community. The original free-land agreement appears to be the challenge that’s preventing the pit from being vacated or improved despite its close proximity to private housing. Our present commissioners now hold responsibility for causes and resolution in protecting public tranquility, efficiency and money.
The argument goes beyond a reasonable assessment that the pit is an unsightly neighborhood business. It comes down to an interest near and dear to my lungs and heart: Who owns the air above this pit operation? Are harmful particulates emanating from this pit operation to impact basic breathing?
When the county gave the property to the ranchers, could it legally have included the air? If not, the placement now of an air monitor near that pit for monthly readings could resolve part of the controversy. Some small air monitors cost less than $100. Is the pit using water for dust control or polluting any ground resource? Water monitoring doesn’t need to be pricey — it just needs conscientious attention. Has the pit owner been maintaining oiled or watered utility roads to suppress dust dispersion? These are compliance issues within county control that fall under the Utah Administrative Code. UAC has imbedded in its “R” rules the lawful operational requirements for gravel (extraction) pits.
Questions remain: Who or what county department oversees lawful pit operation? UAC says that “local health departments have jurisdiction to administer” its rules. Do we have any professional in our Tooele County Health Department who can review and approve pit/extraction facility design, operation and compliance? If so, are there records available on various monitoring activities over time?
In addition to breathing issues, there are valid safety concerns inherent in any pit operation. Can the county ensure that the public will be safe on public roads while being displaced by successive 60-foot truck/trailers? Loose rock often falling from gravel haulers can obstruct driving or cause personal damage and even death.
These issues don’t justify the county to just shut up or to place such a wish on the citizenry. We do agree that good air is necessary for life and health, so why can’t we also agree that it should have precedence over profit. In fairness to South Rim residents, it should be those who have reaped monetary and political gain who should be making the greatest effort for peaceful resolution without passing costs to county taxpayers.
Stansbury Park area citizenry has its own “pit” frustrations. This community of over 10,000 people has six operating gravel pits sharing its immediate area. The most recent pit operation has denuded a once-vegetated, highly visible hill with open slashes and dusty diggings a half-mile long. It has dusty pit roads that spill onto a dedicated county road that attaches to the congested state Route 36/state Route 138 intersection for its product delivery to SLC via Interstate 80. Other pits are using Droubay and Bates Canyon roads that flow into the same intersects.
The line has been crossed between exploration and exploitation. We need air monitoring by the county, not the state. The Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has only one air quality monitor for Tooele Valley, in Erda, and it monitors in a mile radius for EPA compliance only, principally for ozone.
A particulate reading of PM 2.5, level 1, is “good.” Of five levels, even a “level 2” moderate air quality measure, according to DEQ rules, “… affects highly sensitive people, with children and older adults especially impacted.” I know this to be true by counting the school days my grandchild misses or those times I am home bound because of diminished breathing capacity.
Yet, the only local health issues being recognized are how fat and unexercised too many Tooele County residents are. And now a few local folk want a nine-mile biking and walking trail between Erda and Lake Point to achieve “Active Transportation” for improving these personal deficiencies. This cost could be included in the county’s proposed $4.1 million dollar property tax increase. Budget requests without proven austerity are offensive to fat and thin alike, so please respect my money first and I’ll take care of me. In any and every case, respect at a cost to others is disrespect.
With genuine concern for all parties, we should and can avoid costly legal confrontation by striving for reciprocal agreement. But our deference to present county action has to be “No More Taxes” until we can learn to govern and be governed with honesty, courtesy, and respect.
Palmer is a resident of Stansbury Park.