DRAPER — Just days before the Draper City Council votes on a potential rezone that would allow a gravel pit to grow by 73 acres at the Point of the Mountain, some doctors and residents in the area continue to voice their concerns.
"If there's ever a public official guilty of malpractice, it is ignoring what we're trying to tell the population about what the air pollution may do to … future generations," Brian Moench, board president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, said at a town hall meeting Monday in the Draper City Library.
Moench, along with a few doctors and about 40 residents, gathered to discuss how the proposed rezoning of the Geneva Rock gravel pit could affect the health of residents in the city and surrounding areas, as well as property values.
The rezone, which the city council will vote on Wednesday, will cause additional particulate matter pollution in Draper and surrounding cities, Moench said during the meeting.
He said an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 deaths are caused in Utah every year by pollution. And cities along the Wasatch Front already rank in the top 10 worst cities in the U.S. for "acute spikes in particulate pollution," Moench said.
Ultrafine particles created by gravel pits, he said, are extremely damaging.
"The smaller the particle, the more damage it can do biologically," the doctor said.
He compared crystalline silicon, a type of pollution caused by rock mining, to "microscopic specks of barbed wire."
Moench said the pollution causes the same diseases that are associated with smoking, including heart attacks, strokes, acceleration of aging, cancer, brain diseases and sudden death. High levels of air pollution also cause pregnancy complications at higher rates, Moench said.
In early August, Dave Kallas, spokesman for Geneva Rock, told the Deseret News the proposed extension will provide needed materials for constructing new roads, houses and other buildings along the Wasatch Front over the next 20 years.
Geneva is proposing to forego any mining at Steep Mountain and instead will establish a 78-acre conservation area with an easement granted to Draper or Salt Lake County, Kallas has said.
The company will also put in a dirt road and small parking lot to accommodate visitors and hang gliders at the top of the mountain, pending county approval, and allow Draper to extend its trails network.
Kallas said the move will save both the south and north face of the mountain from any additional mining activity and enhance access for hang gliders and paragliders.
"This secures in perpetuity Steep Mountain as a conservation area. We took a chunk of it that was legally permitted for mining and will leave that alone," he said.
During Monday's meeting, Adrian Dybwad, a resident of the area, said Geneva asked for a rezone five years ago but withdrew its application because of opposition.
This time, Dybwad said, the company talked to paragliders and the parks and trails commission to try to win them over as "allies" and make the rezoning sound "more attractive."
John Macfarlane, a neurosurgeon, lives in the area of the gravel pit zones to the north of Draper. He became interested in the issue years ago, he said, because he has two children with asthma.
"This gravel pit is kind of a triple threat to us," he said, calling the proposal "a perfect storm" because of an air vortex in the area that could carry pollution from the pit.
Additionally, 20 percent of dementia cases can be linked to air pollution, Macfarlane said.
Some at the meeting also brought up concerns about how the gravel pit's extension could repel "clean tech companies" from the area.
After hearing doctors' concerns about the proposal, a few residents at the meeting asked what they could do to demonstrate their opposition.
Moench encouraged residents to attend Wednesday's meeting, where those who want to speak out against the project will each be given three minutes to do so.
"The first and most critical step is to have the Draper City Council say 'No,'" Moench said.