SALEM, Utah County — A war of words could be looming if city leaders go forward with plans to reclaim three gravel pits near a quiet rural neighborhood.

The three pits, named after the companies that mined them over several decades, are now an ugly scar encompassing some 40 acres near Woodland Hills Drive and 1280 South. The land is deemed useless unless it can be reclaimed and turned into residential property, and that can't be done without noisy work that could last for years.

Additionally, one of the pits, the Wood pit, sits over a major city water aquifer, which officials want to protect.

"We don't want them to go any deeper," city engineer and public works director Bruce Ward told the City Council on Wednesday.

The other two pits are the Sunrock and Staker pits. The city inherited the pits when it annexed the property.

However, to make reclamation profitable and offset costs to the owner of the Wood gravel pit, Dave Wood said he would need to crush remaining rocks into gravel, which would allow them to reclaim and reshape the land as they go. The crushing operation could go on for as long as five years, which is disconcerting for neighbors, some of whom are senior citizens. City leaders would like to bring the other pits into the operation to clean up the entire area at once.

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The existing ordinance doesn't allow rock crushing in that area. So the City Council referred the issue to the planning commission to make a recommendation that could include changing the ordinance, at least temporarily, until the land is reclaimed. Tweaks to the existing ordinance could also include giving owners 60 days to come up with a reclamation plan and a $500,000 bond mandate.

The city held a neighborhood meeting earlier in the week over the issue, and most residents agreed the sites should be cleaned up, Ward said. However, a heated discussion took place on the City Hall steps after the meeting between a landowner and a resident.

Concerns include dust, noise, vibration and heavy trucks driving in and out of the neighborhood.