Many fruit farmers and residents of southern Utah County showed support Tuesday for putting additional restrictions on extraction operations like gravel pits — especially those located near residences or orchards.
The Utah County commissioners voted unanimously to send an ordinance with beefed-up requirements for issues like dust control to the county planning commission for a hearing in July. After that hearing, the planning commission would send the ordinance back to the commission with recommendations for a final decision.
The proposed ordinance would require future extraction operations to submit a Storm Water Pollution Protection Plan to the county and get approval of a plan for the control of fugitive dust from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.
If a proposed extraction operation is to be located within one mile of an existing dwelling or area of agricultural production, it would have additional stipulations. Those requirements would include hours of operation being confined to between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noise restrictions and landscaping designed to provide a barrier mitigating the impacts of noise and dust on surrounding areas.
For years the county has been hearing complaints from Benjamin residents about a gravel pit and asphalt plant operated in the area by Kilgore Companies. Residents have often cited dust, air quality and decreased property values as the downfalls of living near the gravel pit.
In addition, the commission heard from Curtis Rowley of Cherry Hill Farms in March as he presented the issues large amounts of dust in the air can cause for fruit growers.
“Dust is a big issue for us with gravel pits,” Rowley told the commission during his March presentation. “It leaves a dirty, dusty film on the fruit, and it’s hard to remove once it’s on there.”
Rowley’s family-operated farm has 3,600 acres of fruit production in the area, he told the commission, and multiple gravel pits are located in proximity to the orchards.
That dusty film can cost farmers thousands of dollars because it helps encourage spider mites, a pest that can damage both the fruits and leaves of a fruit tree. Usually, those mites can be controlled by encouraging other insects in the orchard who eat them.
“Here’s what happens when dust and mites get together,” Rowley said. “The dust aggravates the beneficial insects, so it slows them down and they aren’t able to control the bad spider mites.”
If a spider mite infestation reaches uncontrollable levels — which Rowley said can happen regularly when dust is present — a farmer can lose $4,000 an acre due to the chemicals, labor and other resources already invested.
Rowley asked the commission in March to develop standards for dust control and a structure of penalties or fines for dust that leaves the property of the operator.
“Some gravel pits are really good, they keep things wet and they don’t have a problem,” Rowley said.
Rowley was one of 15 farmers and southern Utah County residents who spoke to the commission in support of the proposed ordinance Tuesday.
He thanked the commission for paying attention to the issue.
“We want to be a part of the solution in any way we can,” Rowley said.
Commissioner Greg Graves said he would like to see penalties added to the proposed ordinance.
“I don’t know if there’s teeth,” Graves said. “I think we need to start looking at that a little bit.”
Commissioner Nathan Ivie clarified for one Benjamin resident that, should the ordinance be implemented, existing operations would be grandfathered in under current requirements. However, if an existing operation wanted to renew its lease or expand the operation after the ordinance is passed, it would then be subject to the new requirements.