Residents of Traverse Mountain are divided in their opinions on a proposed housing development plan for the north end of the community which would allow Geneva Rock to carry out mass grading and exportation of material in an area close to homes.

While some residents like how the proposed plan handles density issues and includes space for the building of a church and a school, others are concerned about potential health risks involved in moving large amounts of earth close to homes and are skeptical about the likelihood that a school will be built on the proposed site.

The Traverse Mountain master plan currently designates the area in question, located at approximately Gray Hawk Drive & Ravencrest Lane, for high-density residential development. Both townhomes and four-story condominium units have been considered for the site.

Under the amendment being proposed by the developer, TMTH, the allotted density would be moved down the mountain closer to major roads – reducing the traffic burden on community streets – and the area would be developed with single-family homes in a layout matching that of the adjacent neighborhoods.

Rock and dirt are poured in a dump station at Geneva Rock. A station like this would be used at the north end of Traverse Mountain under a proposal before the Planning Commission. | Photo by Autumn Foster Cook

While current regulations limit grading operations to a maximum of two years, the proposal would extend that time frame to three years, with an optional six-month extension with a financial penalty. In exchange for the longer process of moving earth, the developer would donate a site for a church, a site for a school, as well as contribute $40,000 toward a mountain biking trailhead.

In either scenario, a small mountain in the middle of the area will have to be removed. The point of contention is how the removal would be accomplished. Under the current plan, a “cut and fill” mass grading process would be used, meaning that the earth pulled down from the mountain would remain in the area as it is used to fill in the low areas to even out the ground.

Under the proposed change, a “mass grading and export” process would be conducted by Geneva Rock, with materials removed and transported off-site for commercial use.

While those who oppose the plan view it as a mining operation, supporters of the proposal take issue with this term and maintain that it is more properly referred to as mass grading and export.

“The definition of grading and mining are freely available in the Lehi City development code,” said Elias Faraclas, a Traverse Mountain resident opposed to the proposal. “They are licensed as two different things, they are permitted as two different things. Geneva will not be grading; they will be mining.”

Faraclas said that when Geneva came to an HOA (Traverse Mountain Homeowners Association) meeting to propose the idea to the HOA and residents, the company was “quite open” about planning to take as much earth as possible.

Resident Dan Reeve, who supports the proposal, disagrees with calling it mining. “Mining is extracting minerals for the sole purpose of selling those minerals,” he said. This is mass grading with export, which happens all the time. It’s happened dozens of times on the mountain, it happens across the Wasatch front every day.”

Reeve, who has spent about 20 years in the development industry and now works with Perry Homes, which owns part of the property in question, noted that the area plan was updated in 2012 to restrict mass grading because planners didn’t want trucks going through the heart of the community, an idea which he supports. But this proposal would transport the materials out via roads owned by Geneva, leaving neighborhood roads alone, which is one reason he supports it. Reeve emphasized that his interest in the project is as a resident. He has lived in Traverse Mountain for seven years.

Marianne Ludlow, an attorney and resident who worked to get those restrictions included in the plan, said that those who worked on the provision wanted to be able to “evaluate it on a case by case basis, so that instead of having the right to do it, [developers] would actually have to go through an additional approval process.” This is the process that TMTH, the developer, is currently going through with Lehi City.

She said that even though she worked to get the restriction on mass grading in the plan, she supports this exception because the removal plan will leave residential streets free of traffic from the operation, and she likes the finished product it will turn out, with the lower density neighborhood and church and school.

Several residents who support the proposal originally objected to it. But they feel the developer, generally represented by Rob Clauson, a member of TMTH, has worked with the residents to create a lot of upside for the community. Clauson has held five open houses to solicit input from residents.

“Being a developer myself, I feel Rob Clauson has gone above and beyond,” said Reeve, explaining that Clauson has been involved in the community for a long time. “I believe if he can give a benefit to the community and still make it pencil financially, then he’ll do it, and that’s what he’s been trying to do.”

It was Clauson who first approached residents about a year and a half ago in an effort to come up with an alternative to the high-density units the area is zoned for. Allowing Geneva to handle the mass grading operation was the solution the group of interested people hit upon to bring the density down. The school, church and trailhead sites were added in late Spring after more residents responded that there weren’t enough upsides to balance the longer earth-moving operation.

But opponents carry strong concerns about the health implications of moving that much earth over several years. Further, they are skeptical that the school district will be able to utilize the proposed school site in the designated seven years they are given before the school site must be sold to Lehi City for $1 to be used as a park.

The Traverse Mountain HOA compiled extensive information about the health risks involved with earth-moving operations. Dust generated in these situations can aggravate symptoms in those with asthma and pose a long list of other health hazards including increased incidence of bronchitis and ear infections, along with higher likelihood of several chronic illnesses.

Concerned residents are particularly focused on the dangers of airborne crystalline silica, which is stirred up when dirt is moved. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration lists the health hazards of this substance, including lung cancer, kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and silicosis, an incurable and debilitating lung disease.

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE) agrees. The organization has publicly condemned the proposed operation, citing dangers from particulate matter in the air and from diesel exhaust. “Wind greater than 10 mph is enough to pick up dust from disturbed, raw land surfaces, like gravel pits…” UPHE stated in a public letter. “[P]roximity to existing and future residents of make the proposed site an unacceptable health hazard.”

Jesse Mlaker, a resident whose house lies directly adjacent to the land in question, said he’s more concerned about the health risks of long-term exposure to dust and diesel exhaust from the earth moving operations than he is interested in having a school or church nearby.

“We’re the front line,” he said. “We’re concerned about the noise and the dust.”

He said his main concerns are how moving that much earth will affect the many houses downwind in a very windy area, the health effects of diesel exhaust, and the noise of trucks and the conveyer belt.

He also expressed feelings shared by several others that it’s not likely a school can be built at the designated site. While the District has expressed interest in the site, it has offered no guarantee that a school can be built there until the Board of Education can consider it to be included in a future bond. The next bond won’t come up for consideration for three more years, and the following bond will likely follow four years after that.

Opponents also see an issue with the grading of the road, which may be too steep to allow the school district to use the site. Clauson said the needed road grade requirements are figured into the plan.

Mlaker confirmed what a few other residents also reported, that Clauson offered $2,000 per year for the duration of the grading project to those who live right next to the land being developed.

Clauson said he offered it because people were concerned that they’d get more dust in their houses and he wanted to help abate concerns with potential cleaning costs. He also offered filters to three families with members who have existing health conditions and might worry those conditions would be exacerbated by the project.

Clauson also explained that the conveyor belt drop stations would be set up on the other side of the mountain, about 600 feet away from homes, and the conveyor belt would run about 400 feet from the nearest homes. A decibel measurement taken at a conveyor belt like the one that would be used showed a level of 70 decibels at about 15 feet from the belt. 70 decibels compares to the sound made by a vacuum cleaner.

A visit to Geneva’s current operation on the point of the mountain with wind gusting to about 28 mph showed very little dust. It came almost exclusively from a single drop station in which materials were moved from one conveyor belt to the next.

Water is sprayed on the dirt and rock as it is dumped into the hopper that leads to the conveyor belt. It is also sprayed regularly on the roads, where the majority of dust is generated. Under the proposal for Traverse Mountain, sprinklers would be set up along roads and would turn on at regular intervals.

Dave Kallas, Communications Director for Clyde Companies, parent company of Geneva Rock, said that the use of the conveyor belt for the project “greatly reduces vehicle traffic,” the main generator of dust in such projects.

He said, “Geneva Rock was approached by the developer…to look into the project. So, we’ve given our proposal. It’s not, nor was it ever intended to be an expansion of our mine. It just so happens that this is a development project that borders our property. If we don’t do it he could hire someone else, but I think the reason the developer liked using Geneva was we could conveyor right to our property.”

Clauson pointed out that asthma rates in Lehi are lower than for the rest of the state, even though Geneva Rock has been operating at its current location upwind for many years.

Several residents expressed a sense that the current plan to build four-story condos is being used by the developer as a “scare tactic” to generate support for the proposal. In April, before opposition was first expressed, the developer’s plans showed modest two-story townhomes in the area.

Paul Hancock, a Lehi City Council member, and Traverse Mountain resident, said that Kleinfelder, the engineering firm hired to create the dust mitigation plan for TMTH, said “all things being equal, mass grading and export has less dust than cut and fill.” He would like to have more of an “apples to apples” comparison of the two types of grading as it plays out in dust generation and its potential health hazards.

“What’s the real incremental impact?” said Hancock.

The Planning Commission agenda for tonight, October 12, includes public hearings for both the mining proposal and the high-density residential proposal, separately. However, Lehi City barely missed the deadline for providing the ten days’ notice required by law for public hearings, posting the notice nine days before, so another hearing must be held at the next Planning Commission meeting, on November 2.

Clauson indicated that he may pull the mining proposal from the agenda but leave the proposal for high-density residential development. Alternatively, he may choose to keep the item on the agenda so that members of the public who attend can give comment on record, even though a decision can’t be made by the Planning Commission until the next meeting.

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