Last Wednesday evening, residents of Hillcrest Estates packed city hall during a scheduled Wellington City council meeting. The citizens attended the meeting to state their feelings toward a new gravel plant that will be opening soon near their homes.
On Dec. 8, Wellington City signed papers allowing a contractor to set up a gravel pit and crusher near where the Valley Asphalt pit currently stands. The pit will be used while construction and improvements are made to U.S. Highway 6 in the next several years. Residents claim that the council did so without notifying the nearby homeowners before a final decision was made.
Speaking on behalf of the homowners was Hillcrest Estate resident, Lynda Day who questioned the council as to why the citizens weren't allowed to participate in the decision process.
"Someone from the neighborhood was contacted by our office," explained Wellington City Mayor, Karl Houskeeper. "A contractor wanted to reactivate the pit for general gravel removal. So they bought the right to do so and there is no ordinance which allows the city to regulate gravel operations."
There are several issues which concern the residents about the operation of a gravel pit near their homes. The main worry is that the property value of their homes will drop greatly once operation begins at the plant.
Residents also worry about the dust, sound and vibrations caused by such an operation and the presence of a gravel crusher.
"Vibrations will be monitored and will comply with regulations during the time when blasting takes place," assured the mayor. "We will make sure that if there is no law that says this has to be done, then we will suggest it ourselves."
Another issue which concerned both the council and the citizens was water. Where will the water come from which will be used to control dust?
According to Houskeeper, the contractor plans to use secondary water to control the dust. However, once the secondary system is shut off for the winter, water will have to be brought into the area a different way.
Residents continued to voice their concerns regarding the pit and indicated that they were disappointed that they did not have further input into the matter. This disappointment was displayed when the issue of zoning was brought up.
"Wasn't this area designated a residential zone years ago," questioned Day.
Council members indicated that they did not believe that the land which will be used for the gravel operation was zoned residential.
"Because there was a pit there prior to this new operation, the grandfather clause takes affect," indicated the Wellington mayor.
Day then questioned that if the property had changed hands, then shouldn't the grandfather clause no longer apply.
"There has been an agreement made with the new contractor and Henrie Construction to set up the crusher on land that is owned by Henrie. Therefore, the rule does apply," Houskeeper explained.
As the residents continued to protest the presence of the gravel pit, the question was brought up as to why a mining operation could be set up near a residential setting.
"According to federal guidelines, gravel is considered a mineral. Therefore, it meets the guidelines of being a mine," indicated Day who had researched the matter. "An area where coal or other minerals are extracted is considered a mine. So is this not a surface mine?"
Houskeeper who works for the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining explained that in the state of Utah, gravel is not classified as a mineral and therefore, state and local goverment agencies have no control over the extraction process. He said the operation is not considered a mine.
Citizens were also concerned about the environmental impact the gravel pit will have on the area after the operation is complete.
"The owner has agreed to a $25,000 bond which will be used to reclaim the area when the plant is no longer in use. This is said to be in 10 years but they may be done using it within five," advised the mayor.
Most residents were unsatisfied with this figure and questioned where the dollar amount came from.
"The dollar amount was figured upon the cost to reseed an area based on $80 per acre. The area in question is 40 acres," explained council member, William Bates. "Actually, the new owners went above and beyond what was required because there is nothing that says that they have to reclaim the area once they are finished using it."
After a lengthy discussion regarding that matter, residents summarized the situation as lacking public input. According to those citizens in attendance, the city council failed to inform the homeowners about the potential pit operation. Therefore, the council acted without input from the Hillcrest residents.
"We have discussed this matter during previous public city council meetings in which no one appeared to contest the matter. We then acted upon legal advice and was under the impression that there was little we could do to stop the matter since their were no zoning issues involved," explained Houskeeper.
Members of the council agreed to table the matter and in the meantime, the city will seek a second legal opinion regarding the issue.
"The problem is, we don't have enough Wellington residents involved in politics," stated Bates. "We meet twice a month and meeting times, dates and agenda items are posted at city hall the day before the meeting."
However, concerns may have been voiced too late and Hillcrest residents may be stuck with living near the gravel pit operation.
The council meets again on January 14 and will continue to look into the matter.