There is a proposed bill before the Utah Legislature that if passed could provide more guidelines for gravel pit operations across the state, but also limit local jurisdiction as well.
As reported in last Tuesday’s edition, the Legislature is considering House Bill 288, which is titled “Critical Infrastructure Materials.” Such materials include sand, gravel or rock aggregate excavated from gravel pits and used for construction. “Critical” presumably refers to the importance of aggregate that is in high demand because of Utah’s current growth boom.
Sponsored by Rep. Logan Wilde, R-Croydon, the bill passed the House Natural Resources, Environment and Agriculture Committee on Friday. Key provisions include creating critical infrastructure materials protection areas (gravel pits), protecting their operations, adding or removing land from those areas, and limiting local regulation.
Yet, the bill also requires that the owner of a vested critical infrastructure materials operation bears the burden of proof that the gravel pit has been established in accordance with a legal nonconforming use or permit, and is therefore permanently protected.
Furthermore, the owner may expand the gravel pit only if the land is already owned by the owner, is contiguous with the current operation, is zoned for vested critical infrastructure materials operations, and is in accordance with a legal nonconforming use or permit.
But the next key point, specifically the last sentence, perhaps explains best HB 288’s real purpose. The owner of any new subdivision development located within 1,000 feet of an existing gravel pit must provide the following notice on any plat filed with the county recorder:
“This property is located in the vicinity of an established vested critical infrastructure materials operation in which critical infrastructure materials operations have been afforded the highest priority use status. … The use and enjoyment of this property is expressly conditioned on acceptance of any annoyance or inconvenience that may result from such normal critical infrastructure materials operations.”
The proposed bill also requires that a city or county in which a vested gravel pit operates may not enact a law, ordinance or regulation that would “unreasonably restrict” the operation unless it “bears a direct relationship to public health or safety…” or unless it receives written approval from each gravel pit operator within the relevant area.
For officials and citizens concerned about potential health risks related to gravel pits, namely silicosis caused by airborne dust, “acceptance of any annoyance or inconvenience” is unlikely. The proposed bill doesn’t define what is “normal” gravel pit operations, yet defines the rights of a vested gravel pit owner to “use, operate, construct, reconstruct, restore, maintain, repair, alter, substitute, modernize, upgrade, and replace equipment, processes, facilities, and buildings on any surface or subsurface land” that the gravel pit operator “owns or controls.”
With Tooele County having several active gravel pits near residential areas, local officials, concerned citizens and gravel pit operators/owners need to closely watch HB 288 to make sure fairness prevails when it proceeds to a full vote.
Such fairness bears in mind that gravel pits provide needed resources for building roads, homes and structures, which are in high demand, but may also pose potential health risks. Yet, as the county continues to grow and residential and commercial areas encroach on existing gravel pits, striking a balance may be easier said than done.