A 150-acre strip that once held tons of radioactive dirt soon may be an 18-hole golf course and driving range, according to newly elected Salt Lake County commissioners and the mayor of South Salt Lake.
And the course could include either a tunnel or an overpass across busy 3300 South.The Vitro tailings site, near 3300 South and I-15, would be an ideal site for a golf course, said Commissioner-elect Randy Horiuchi. In the mid-1980s, the state and federal governments spent $40 million hauling tons of radioactive dirt from the site to a landfill in Tooele County. For years, the Vitro Chemical Co. occupied the site, leaving behind uranium tailings.
Horiuchi and fellow Commissioner-elect Jim Bradley have said they will kill a proposed golf course in Dimple Dell Park, which has scenic vistas overlooking the Salt Lake Valley. Horiuchi said he plans to make up for that decision by putting golf courses on other sites in addition to Vitro. Among them: the radiation-contaminated Sharon Steel site and a marshy area between South Jordan and Sandy, known as South Point. He also supports plans previous commissioners had for a course on a gravel pit in Mill Valley.
These courses, on seemingly undesirable land, will cost less and will help non-golfers as well, Horiuchi said.
"Golf courses, because they are so expensive, ought to provide two or three or four criteria - not just recreation. The days of the Dimple Dell, golf in a beautiful scenic area where we go spend lots of public money to do a particular public project, are gone," Horiuchi said. He said the public ought to retrieve some of the money it spent hauling dirt from the Vitro site.
He said golf courses either should rehabilitate land that otherwise would be an eyesore, help with flood control or preserve valuable wetlands.
In the case of the Vitro site, Horiuchi said, businesses will avoid the land for decades because groundwater still is contaminated. About 85 acres currently are owned by the Central Valley Water Reclamation District, and the rest is owned by several other cities and governmentagencies.
Horiuchi also wants the county to buy 40-45 acres south of the site to complete the 18 holes. He said the county may build a tunnel under 3300 South to connect the two sections.
Officials in the golf world said they haven't studied the idea, but they like it - even though they were disappointed in losing the Dimple Dell site.
"We certainly want golf courses and certainly there is a demand for them. Golf course sites have been built on some otherwise worthless land and become very productive parts of the community. If that can happen - that's one of the great things about golf," said Joe Watts, executive director of the Utah Golf Association.
He said that type of thing is being done all over the country, including East Bay in Provo, which was built on a dump ground and made into a beautiful facility.
"I do not know the health ramifications (of building on the Vitro site), but I am sure if it's researched properly - and I am sure it will be - it would be great," he said.
Like Horiuchi, South Salt Lake Mayor Jim Davis sees several advantages to such a course.
For example, it would create a "productive recreational" area near the Jordan River Parkway, while returning some revenue to the entities that own the property. Multimillion gallons of water produced at the water treatment plant every day could be used on the golf course, and potentially, sludge could be a soil enhancer.
Plus, a course would beautify an entry to South Salt Lake.
"The district obviously wants to get as much value out of the land as it can. In the long run it could be an industrial park or business center of some kind," Davis said. "Currently it's not economically feasible, so a golf course would be a good substitute."
Murray Mayor Lynn Pett agrees. "If the seven entities agree on it, it's a possibility. At least it would be green open space."
But the course is only in the formative stage.
Davis said the course doesn't have the endorsement of Central Valley. Nor have the seven entities that own the surplus land bought off on the course - including Davis' own City Council. Rod Dahl, director of Central Valley, said he could not comment.
The final decision will ultimately be made by the Central Valley board, plus Salt Lake City Suburban Sanitation District 1, Taylorsville-Bennion Improvement District, Kearns Improvement District, Granger-Hunter Improvement District, Cottonwood Improvement District, Murray City and South Salt Lake.