Murray's smokestacks, visible from every corner of the Salt Lake Valley, are suddenly visible for another reason:
They're at the center of a debate that's shaping up to be a classic "preservation versus progress" struggle.Too bad, because it shouldn't be that way.
Numerous news stories have appeared recently stating that the smokestacks may have to come down, and quick, or else ambitious development plans for the 140 acres around them may be scuttled. Even the Deseret News editorial page has jumped in, urging demolition of the stacks so that development may proceed unimpeded.
Unfortunately, these positions are being staked out before the facts are in. Consider the following:
- Murray city has been actively working on the smelter site cleanup and redevelopment for seven years. The first time the seismic stability of the smokestacks was even considered was this January. If a decision on their fate must be made right now, the studies should have started much earlier.
- The only seismic study completed to date concluded that the cost of demolishing the stacks was about the same as the cost of stabilizing and preserving them. Since the report was issued, a tremendous amount of effort has been expended to find cheaper ways to tear them down. Little effort has been expended to find cheaper ways to keep them up.
The decision-making is complicated by the huge number of parties who have an interest in the outcome. Current property owners, potential property owners, developers, historic preservation officials, environmental officials, Murray city and the citizens of our community all have valid in-ter-ests at stake.
There may still be time to give this decision real consideration, if all of those parties can agree.
- First, Murray city should undertake a serious and speedy study aimed at determining the real costs and options for preserving all or part of the existing smokestacks in a manner that would be compatible with reasonable development plans.
- Funding sources should then be identified for the best options. Current owners should contribute at least what they would pay to tear the smokestacks down. Developers should contribute something reflecting the tremendous marketing value the highly visible stacks would hold. Funds from renting the stacks for communications equipment should be accounted for. Historic preservation grants and tax credits should be used wherever possible. Private fund-raising campaigns could be undertaken.
- If, after all of that, more money is needed, the citizens of Murray could be asked whether they want to make up the difference through general obligation bonding. Let the people vote with their pocketbooks. What better way of assessing the importance of these landmarks to the community?
The effort to reclaim the smelter area absolutely must continue. The development foreseen for the site is spectacular and will change the face of Murray for the better for generations to come. But we will fail those future generations in at least one major respect if rushed, incomplete decision-making leads to the destruction of Murray's oldest, most historic, most visible testaments to the city's roots.