South Salt Lake City Mayor Jim Davis will ask his City Council to consider bringing suit against the Central Valley Water Reclamation District for delaying development at the old Vitro uranium mill site.
Davis is urging Salt Lake County and Granite School District to sue as well because taxpayers, who spent millions to remove radioactive uranium mill tailings several years ago, are still paying Tooele County a substantial disposal fee.Meanwhile, the undeveloped land isn't beefing up Salt Lake County's tax coffers.
But Rodney L. Dahl, the facility's general manager, said the bureaucracy - not the facility - is holding up commercial development. Neither federal nor state officials have issued final certification stating the land is free of contaminants, he said.
"It could be as long as several months to 10 years before we get clearance," Dahl said. Central Valley owns the Vitro site.Davis said time is money - and he isn't willing to waste either.
"Central Valley through its actions has demonstrated amply that they are not willing to develop that land," Davis said. "By not doing so, they are withholding from the taxpayers and Central Valley rate payers a precious resource that could help offset the tax burden in Salt Lake County."
The Bureau of Radiation Control managed the cleanup operation of 2.7 million cubic yards of mildly radioactive mill tailings that were hauled from the Vitro site near 3300 South and 500 West to a landfill in Tooele County.
Concerns about land and groundwater contamination have complicated efforts to develop the site since 1986.
But Davis said the culprit hindering development isn't Uncle Sam. It's the Central Valley board - and particularly Dahl, who wants the highest and best use for the 128 acres and hired a consulting firm to do what Davis called an "elaborate" land-use plan.
"They (the consultants) came back with high-rise hotels and office buildings," Davis said. "They are treating the land like it was downtown Salt Lake City or downtown Phoenix or downtown San Francisco. They inflate the value of the land and say, `If you wait a while, you are going to make a fortune.' "
The mayor said his patience has run out. He accused Dahl of acting beyond "his scope of authority" by proposing that Central Valley develop the property rather than turn it over to private developers.
"I can't find anything in the law that says they have the authority to do anything except run a sewage-treatment plant," said Davis, a member of the Central Valley board of directors. "The district, over my objections, is operating as a private developer with no legal authority and no right to do that. They are to treat sewer. That's all they are to do."
Davis adamantly objects to Central Valley purchasing "at least three parcels of land between the Vitro site and 900 West in the past two years."
But Dahl said Central Valley isn't buying property and doesn't intend to be a developer. "We intend to be a landlord. We'd like to lease, not sell the land. But we have to get clearance from the federal government to have it developed."
Davis said federal officials have told South Salt Lake consultants the land is usable and available for development.
"They want to certify the whole package of land," Davis said. "But they've said they'll release portions of the land if we have developers."
According to Davis, several prominent developers - including Boyer Co., John Price, James L. Sorenson - have made proposals to the board to develop the property.
"They've been willing to take this property off our hands. But every one of those proposals have been ash-canned by Rod Dahl taking them to the board of directors," Davis said. "Dahl and the board have sat on that land. They want to wait for the hotel complex."
Dahl countered that only one formal proposal for an automobile dealership has been presented to the board, "and the board made the decision they didn't want to sell the land dirt cheap."
"That's crap," Davis said. "John Price issued an earnest money check and Boyer Co. appeared before the board. So did Sorenson."
Meanwhile, Davis said Dahl two years ago had sewage sludge tilled into the soil - contaminating the land taxpayers paid millions to clean up.
"And then he has the audacity to say we can't develop it because banks won't lend money because of the groundwater contamination," Davis said. "The whole thing is completely out of control. Central Valley is a very, very expensive proposition. The facility is a throne to the sewer gods."
Dahl and Davis could reach a temporary compromise.
Salt Lake County Commissioner Randy Horiuchi and Davis recently recommended that a golf course be developed on the Vitro property. They said the course could provide some tax revenue and community benefits until the land is freed for more profitable uses.
Dahl said the course, built on an interim basis, is one alternative being considered by the board.
Murray Mayor Lynn Pett, a new member of the Central Valley board, said he's been asked by its Land Development Committee to discuss the success of Murray's course. But Pett is staying neutral on the land development issue.
"If (the land) were in my community, I'd like to see it developed because it means tax benefits," Pett said. "But until we get the word from the feds, I see no reason to get into a big argument over it."
Vitro site debate
- South Salt Lake wants the Vitro property developed and on the tax rolls.
- Central Valley Water Reclamation District wants to postpone development to get the best return on its investment.
- Federal officials want the land contaminant-free.
- Taxpayers, who have spent millions to remove radioactive tailings, want the eyesore improved and headache removed.