Friends of Great Salt Lake and other bird and wildlife groups all believe the development would not only threaten the lake and its ecosystem, but would also come at great cost to taxpayers. Besides taking light rail farther west, there is infrastructure—water, utilities, sewage facilities, schools—to be paid for.
Four miles of light-rail could cost upward of $100 million. Roads could be $21 million or more. Then, there will be a proliferation of those pesky overhead power lines—the ones that Salt Lake City neighborhoods are already complaining about. That’s just the beginning, since impact fees won’t nearly cover the costs of transforming this harsh environment.
Harsh to humans, that is. Oh, did we mention that arsenic plume underground? It’s been spreading from the old Salt Lake City landfill property that the LDS Church now owns.
Also called the North Temple Landfill, at 790 acres, it holds 5.3 million cubic yards of seeping municipal solid waste. This landfill has already been accepted into a voluntary cleanup program through the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, according to the master plan.
Apparently, what once seemed like a nice, remote area for waste proved to be wet and permeable, presenting a sticky environmental problem. At the time the master plan was being written, the LDS Church’s SLR was considering buying a second landfill—the 250-acre Cannon Pioneer Landfill at the corner of 5600 West and California Avenue—and was beginning an “unprecedented” remediation project on both sites. SLR has already begun “investigation and preparation” for the remediation with the state Department of Environmental Quality, according to Joyce.
trucks have been lumbering into the landfill, carrying chunks of
concrete from the City Creek Project to be broken down and reused.
The LDS Church, in its anticipation of development, offered to indemnify the city from any harm related to landfill contamination, Goldsmith says, referring to private conversations during his city tenure.
A Lot of Fill Dirt
Environmental groups are stunned by the thought of development in the area. “Part of what makes the NW Quadrant a great bird habitat also makes it a difficult place for humans to live,” a Friends of Great Salt Lake fact sheet states. “There are many bugs. Also, trees and other types of plants people expect in landscaping won’t grow in the alkaline and saline soil. The Great Salt Lake smells, the airport is noisy and the view to the west is of the Kennecott smelter. Domestic pet ownership will be restricted because pets pose a threat to the unique birds in the area.”
Drawings of the proposed development show trees lining the village streets.
But Simonsen is skeptical. “What are the things that people like to do with homes? Plant trees and gardens,” he says. “I’ve been told soils [are] so sandy and salty that you can’t grow trees. I can’t imagine people living where they can’t plant a vegetable garden.”
The plan calls for encouraging “environmentally friendly landscaping and irrigation practices” that don’t “require extensive modifications to the native soils.” In this case, it could mean rooftop gardens, but certainly not tree-lined streets.
One subject of debate has been the flooding potential, and most people know from former Gov. Norm Bangerter’s lake pumps just how dicey that can be. One year up, three years down.
“When the floodwaters receded in late ’80s, it was like the entire landscape was skeletized from all the salt,” Larson recalls.
The historic peak lake elevation supposedly is 4,212 feet, notes a January 2008 report to the Salt Lake City Council. It places a 4,217-foot minimum elevation, for good measure, and “wave action,” to keep the flood waters at bay. And this doesn’t consider the effect of the much-maligned concept of global warming. Recent studies predict increased rainfall in the quadrant, a 2009 city Community and Economic Development report says.
“Property at 4,215 elevation would require review and approval of at least two feet of fill prior to development of habitable structures,” the earlier 2008 report says.
That’s a lot of fill dirt. “I don’t know that we’ve done a careful analysis of soil and hydrology,” says Simonsen. “If you build up to the floodplain line, when the lake is at its highest levels, there’s no place left for wildlife to go.”
Simonsen has asked both consultants and the city’s planning division for a detailed analysis of soil conditions, but has not received it yet. Wilf Sommerkorn, who’s been director of the city planning division for the past year, says he’d be glad to send anything to Simonsen, but oddly, he hasn’t heard of any requests.
The floodplain is only one of Simonsen’s concerns. The councilman also wants to see a report on wildlife habitat—something beyond a footnote on wetlands.