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Stuart Johnson, Deseret Morning News
Artist Cristina Peterson collects scrap metal from the Geneva Steel site for a sculpture for the Geneva Project.

OREM — The smoky towers and massive production plants may be gone, but Geneva Steel's impact on Utah County is too great to let the memory die.

So says Cristina Peterson, who is spearheading an effort — the Geneva Project — to preserve stories, pictures and memories of the industrial giant to share with future generations.

"So much of Geneva has been destroyed," she said. "We want to preserve what we can."

Johnson comes at the initiative from an art background, as co-founder of the Simple Earth Art Center in American Fork. Rick Fish, a lecturer at Utah Valley State College and former archivist for Geneva Steel, has also joined in the efforts to preserve the past.

The Geneva Steel plant was built in the 1940s to contribute steel to the war effort. At its peak, it employed thousands and put Utah County on the map, Fish said.

The 1,681-acre site had nearly 180 buildings, some a mile long, and was finally shut down in 2001, after owners battled through several bankruptcies and ultimately sold it.

"It was sad because it wasn't like it was an old mill," said Dirk Hacker, fire chief and manager of safety at the Anderson Geneva Development Inc. property. "We tore down a perfectly good mill."

Hacker now monitors the all-but-barren land, which is under remediation and awaiting housing and commercial developments.

Although some residents said they were glad to see it go, labeling it an environmentally unsound eyesore, for those who had worked at the plant for decades, it was painful to watch as it was dynamited down in minutes in July 2005, Peterson said.

"Our hope is to take a positive spirit about what's left and preserve it," Peterson said. "There's a lot of stories left."

Their plans — with help from UVSC, Brigham Young University and Anderson Geneva Development Inc. — include a documentary, a public history fair, a sculpture park and someday a museum on the property near a planned intermodal hub.

"I think for a lot of people, it was so heartbreaking to see the plant go, it's taken some time before they even want to think about it," Fish said. "We used to at least have the visual reminder, but now we don't even have the visual reminder. (I think the) community is now at a point where they are ready to invest time and energy into preserving the memory."

The school of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at UVSC, soon to be Utah Valley State University, has also pledged its support to help with the Geneva Project, Fish said.

CST Environmental Inc., the group that purchased the salvage rights for $16 million, has been cleaning up the above-ground area and selling large pieces of metal to scrappers and recyclers, said Spencer Taylor, branch manager. They have allowed the Geneva Project group members to gather small pipes, metal rings, metal chains and other miscellaneous scraps for the project.

The project members are also making an urgent plea to the community for memorabilia, concerned that many old pictures, uniforms or other scraps of the past are ending up in the trash.

Anyone with Geneva remembrances who would like to donate them or just loan them can call Peterson at 801-492-1501 or e-mail her at cristina@simpleearth.org. They also encourage continued support from local businesses and organizations.

The group recently approached the Vineyard Town Council to get a letter of support that will enable Peterson to apply for a grant from the Utah Arts Council, given to those who want to promote economic growth through the arts and culture, Peterson said.

"The Vineyard Town Council applauds and supports your efforts to preserve the history of General Steel through the Geneva Project," wrote Mayor Randy Farnworth. "Development is coming, and we are excited about what the future will bring but also feel a strong desire to preserve the elements that influenced and created our community."

E-mail: sisraelsen@desnews.com