ST. GEORGE – Residents of SunRiver filled a meeting of the Washington County Planning Commission Tuesday as a proposed gypsum mine located near the retirement community was considered for a conditional use permit. Though the planning commission heard numerous comments against approval, the seven-member body unanimously voted in favor of the mine’s creation and operation.
Good Earth Minerals is seeking to create a gypsum mine on 11.3 acres of public land, five miles west of the SunRiver subdivision. The mine would be the second of its kind in the area, joining a preexisting gypsum mining operation located eight miles south of SunRiver just across the Arizona border.
The potential impact on quality of life in the area, namely increased noise, air quality and traffic were among the chief concerns noted by various individuals who addressed the planning commission Tuesday.
Blasting and noise
Objections to noise were related to blasting and the use of heavy equipment at the mining site.
“Much of SunRiver is already subject to high noise levels associated with heavy truck traffic on Interstate 15, as well as from frequent blasting at the Arizona Strip gypsum mine,” wrote Waid Reynolds, a SunRiver resident, in a letter the planning commission. “Any noise from the proposed mine will be extremely objectionable.”
Some blasting may be necessary to remove the top cap of a gypsum deposit, said Darryl Whitney, president of Western Rock Products, the subcontractor hired to extract and transport the gypsum. However, blasting was to be a last resort. Whitney said using a bulldozer to remove the cap was the preferred method. “We really don’t want to do any blasting,” he said.
Should explosives be necessary however, Whitney said some dust dispersal is to be expected. “There is a little dust with the initial blast,” he said.
Aside from dust being kicked up, the resulting rumble caused by blasting was another concern expressed to the planning commission. In response to these concerns, the planning commission outlined the following as a part of the mine’s conditional use permit:
- Restricted hours for blasting during the day.
- Use of smaller, successive charges to remove deposit caps in order to reduce potential noise and rumble-inducing shockwaves.
As for the noise caused by heavy mining equipment and trucks, planning commission member Mike Stuki said that type of sound would travel no matter what.
“This is not a SunRiver issue, it’s a Washington County issue,” said Don Stricklin, president of the SunRiver homeowners association. When the nearby gypsum mine on the Arizona Strip starts blasting, he said dust from those explosions “all comes right toward (SunRiver).”
Stricklin questioned where GEM would get the water needed to keep the dust down that would be triggered by blasting, as well as by trucks traveling to and from the mining site.
Fred Johnson, a consultant for GEM, said water needed for dust control was not accessible onsite but that an arrangement was being made for access wells on the Shivwits Indian Reservation. Arrangements were also being made with a private property owner for water rights, he said.
As for storage, Travis Christiansen, a lawyer representing GEM, said there was a covered facility on the Shivwits Reservation where the gypsum would be transported.
Johnson added that no large amounts of gypsum or fine material would be stored at the mining site, which would help reduce dust concerns. Also, any trucks transporting material out of the area would be covered.
Currently, air quality would be monitored by the Division of Air Quality under Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality. Whitney said Western Rock Products inspectors may, however, come around once a year. His statement drew objections and boos from the crowd at the meeting.
Christi Nuffer, a representative of Citizens for Dixie’s Future, suggested that GEM be required to purchase air-monitoring equipment in order to make sure air quality remained safe. Her suggestion was considered by the planning commission and made a part of the conditional use permit requirements.
In addition to the air monitoring equipment, the planning commission added St. George air quality standards, which are higher than those issued by the state.
While GEM would like to have its trucks take a transport route over Utah Hill, another potential route includes taking Highway 91 through Santa Clara onto Sunset Boulevard, then over to St. George Boulevard and across to I-15.
“Highway 91 is a major route for cyclists and runners,” said Mike Myers, a St. George resident. “These large trucks are scary. It’s a mistake to allow any of those through St. George in anyway.”
Cimarron Chacon, a cycling advocate, suggested to the planning commission that more shoulder be added to Highway 91 to improve safety.
As for the impact the added truck traffic would have on the proposed route, Stuki said there wouldn’t be much of one, as the same route is used by trucks hauling material from the Apex mine when it is operating.
In the end, a requirement was adopted that would require GEM to work with applicable agencies on providing some kind of signage indicating which roads may be impacted by heavy-load traffic.
Conditions on top of conditions
“I’ve never seen a mining plan as restrictive as this,” Whitney said, but said it wasn’t a bad thing. Requirements set forth in the conditional use permit for the mine are put in place as precautionary measures in order to protect the environment and the public.
“That is what (this) process is about,” Johnson said, and added that by complying with requirements set forth by the planning commission, there should be no harm to the public.
In addition to adhering to Washington County’s conditions, the mine will also have to comply with the conditions set forth by the Bureau of Land Management. Christiansen said it had taken over two years to get the BLM to OK the project before they were able to approach the county.
“Bottom line,” Christiansen said, “(gypsum) is not harmful material.”
With the approval of the GEM gypsum mine, final review goes to the county commission on Aug. 7, with a recommendation for approval from the planning commission. If approved, the conditional use permit is only for a year, making approval an annual process.
- BLM Environmental Assessment for the GEM gypsum mine
- U.S. Geological Survey: Gypsum Statistics and Information
Copyright 2012 St. George News.