After several weeks of controversy, the LDS Church was given official permission Wednesday to retrieve granite from Little Cottonwood Canyon.
The granite, taken from the same site as the stone used to build the Salt Lake LDS Temple a century ago, will be cut into slabs to face the church's large new assembly hall, now being constructed just north of Temple Square.After the unanimous decision by the Salt Lake County Commission, church officials expressed relief - and anxiousness to get going.
"We'll start fencing right now," said assembly hall project manager Tom Hanson. "The (conditional-use) permit itself will take a couple of days to go from here to there to there (pointing to various offices in the county's government complex), and then we can start operations."
Those operations include building two roads - one 560 feet long, one 300 feet long - to get from the canyon's main roadway to the spot where workers will remove loose boulders from the bottom of a rock fall. Larger boulders will be split first by drilling holes and installing small explosive charges.
The permit will allow The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints two years to complete its granite retrieval operations and an additional year to mitigate the damage by installing top soil and planting vegetation. One opponent maintained that the church should be required to replace the boulders as well, but that argument didn't get very far.
Opponents had argued that the operation would destabilize the mountainside, endanger people living and driving beneath the operation and cause long-term esthetic damage to the area, which is frequented by rock climbers and others.
"The factor of safety calculated by the (church) was inappropriately low," said David Carrier, a University of Utah professor who had appealed a March 24 Planning Commission decision to the County Commission. The church had made its application earlier that month, and Carrier said not enough time was taken to examine all the ramifications.
"It's amazing how fast this went through," he said. The County Commission "basically walked in there with the decision already made."
Attorney Marc Mascaro, representing the church, dismissed Carrier's destabilization arguments by noting Carrier's not a geotechnical expert.
"We don't propose to do anything that is contrary to a professional engineer's recommendations," he said.
Opponents tried to block approval by appealing to various county ordinances, particularly the foothill overlay ordinance regulating canyon development, saying the church's plan was not in compliance. County staffers answered that they were continuing to work with the church to make sure all ordinance requirements, as well as conditions placed on the permit by the planning and county commissions, were met.
Commissioner Brent Overson said his vote was partially influenced by the fact that the church, after all, does own the property.
"I have profound respect for private property rights," he said.
The general feeling of county and planning commissioners was that in the past the church has tried hard to accommodate rock climbing and other recreational uses of its property, even though it didn't have to, and that it should now be allowed to make use of it in a way that was not overly destructive. If it had wanted to do more than just pick up boulders, for example, Commissioner Randy Horiuchi said his vote would have been different.
"The idea of a mine being there is unthinkable," he said.
The fact that the granite will be used as veneer for a church building prompted one protester to express her own theology.
"The forest is my temple," said Paula Quenemon. "My god, that I worship, dwells in the forest."