Tom Clyde: Forgiveness is cheaper than permission
Many years ago, I proposed a system of growth management that seemed a lot more effective and efficient than relying on zoning and market influences. Zoning is a pretty limited tool. The market, of course, is the market — given to wild swings and gyrations, too hot sometimes, too cold at others, and very difficult for anybody to predict, let alone regulate. There had to be a better way.
At the time, I proposed a simple, yet elegant solution. The proposal was to put an auto wrecking yard on the entrance to town. The site I had in mind is now the McLeod Creek neighborhood, but way back when, it was vacant land on the very edge of town. The topography offered some advantages because there were low spots that were hard to see from the highway and high spots that were impossible to miss driving into town.
My plan was to have a stack of junk cars that could be re-arranged as needed. When the market got a little too hot, the cars could be piled on the high ground for in-your-face visibility. When one of our cyclical crashes hit, the cars could be re-stacked in the low spots and somewhat out of sight. The thinking was that people arriving in Park City would say, “This is a charming little mountain town. I’d consider living here, but I couldn’t possibly move to a town with junked DeSotos stacked 10 deep in the entry corridor.” And they would keep moving, in search of a place that didn’t have a growth-control junk yard.
I was reminded of this plan when I read that the city is proposing to build a hazardous waste repository in the entry corridor along S.R. 248. Times have changed, and a mere junkyard may lack the impact needed to slow our current market down. A hazardous waste dump might do the trick. Admittedly it lacks the flexibility of re-stacking the Oldsmobiles as market conditions require. Dirt is expensive to move, though that doesn’t seem to stop us from moving enormous volumes of it, in some cases a couple of times.
A hazardous waste dump right on the entrance to town might have the needed heft to get the job done. The toxic soil isn’t all that visible. It looks like generic dirt, other than some “off” colors and the sulfur smell. Signage will be essential. Large, frightening signage with skull-and-crossbones and arrows pointing to the piles of contaminated dirt could do it. People would say, “This is a charming small city. I’d consider living here, but I couldn’t possibly move to a town with a hazardous waste dump on the front doorstep.” And they would move on to somewhere else.
As I dug a bit deeper into the issue, it was clear that the city has not adopted my plan for growth management. It turns out that they have been dumping toxic dirt on city-owned land across S.R. 248 from the water treatment plant for quite a while. It’s hard to miss the dump truck parade coming out of there in the morning, adding to the general chaos and gridlock on the highway. I wrongly assumed it was part of the water treatment plant project. The dirt has found a resting place, at least temporarily. There are some 35,000 cubic yards of it dumped there already. For perspective, that’s enough dirt to fill the Kimball Junction Walmart store, from the garden center to the bakery, to a depth of about 3 feet. The dirt needs a permanent home, either in a licensed dump in Tooele, or a licensed dump of our very own.
After moving 35,000 yards of dirt there, somebody decided they ought to apply for a permit. Hazardous waste repositories are regulated by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality. You don’t just dump stuff and call it good. There are engineers and geologists involved. The dump needs to have a proper lining to guarantee that nothing leaches out of it into the ground water. There’s a process. Not all locations are suitable.
For most people, that process would have begun prior to importing all the toxic dirt. For the city, the process seems to be going to DEQ and saying, “Goodness gracious, somehow we have accumulated this big pile of nasty stuff. It’s there. Please give us the permit to properly bury the mess we created.” Try that approach building a deck off the back of your house and see how forgiving the city is about doing anything without a permit. But hazardous waste? Bring it on.
The proposal has been on numerous public agendas over maybe a year. While it’s not been front and center, or adequately explained, it hasn’t been hidden any more than the 35,000 yards of dirt. But it’s a pretty odd piece of work that they stacked a mountain of toxic soil in the entry corridor before anybody bothered to get a permit to handle it. Forgiveness is cheaper than permission.
Tom Clyde practiced law in Park City for many years. He lives on a working ranch in Woodland and has been writing this column since 1986.
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