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Silver Creek Landowner Alleges Superfund Designation Has Stalled a Decade of Work

A landowner near the Silver Creek watershed in the Snyderville Basin has filed a federal lawsuit against the federal Environmental Protection Agency, the Utah Department of Health and Summit County.

The suit claims the owner cannot develop his property because the defendants have mistakenly included it in a Superfund designation that includes Richardson Flat and tailings along Silver Creek.

The suit was filed in early February in Utah’s U.S. District Court by Resort Center Associates, whose manager and principal representative is developer Walt Plumb.

The company said it’s been left in legal and administrative limbo for more than a decade because of the defendants, who include former EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, Scott Baird, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality; Summit County, and United Park City Mines, owner of the Richardson Flat tailings repository.

The Resort Center company owns 191 acres of the historic Pace Family Ranch, bounded on the north by Interstate 80, as it exits the Basin, and on the west by the Union Pacific Rail Trail.

The company acquired the land in 2004. In 2006, it entered into a Development Agreement with Summit County for 18 one-acre lots on the southern end of the property, with the rest of their land as open space.

Richardson Flat includes a tailings repository of 160 acres. The lawsuit says the EPA has considered the site for the National Priorities List since the early 1990s and has designated it as “Operable Unit One.”

In 2008, Summit County created a temporary overlay zone for contaminated soil and water in the lower Silver Creek drainage. Some time after that, the EPA expanded the Superfund designation to include “Operable Unit Two”, which contains portions of Silver Creek beyond U.S. 40.

The plaintiff said their property was included in that unit. However, they say no part of their land is in the Silver Creek floodplain. Any wetlands in the Pace Ranch were subdivided and conveyed to Park City.

Resort Center also said there has been extensive soil testing on their property—twice in 2007, and another three times between 2014 and 2017—and the tests clearly found there weren’t any hazardous materials above the remedial action threholds set by the EPA. At most, the suit said, one survey found a loading dock site with four elevated samples, but that was 100 feet from the Plaintiff’s property, and separated by the Rail Trail and a split-rail fence.

The suit says that despite the testing evidence, the EPA has insisted on continuing remediation on Resort Center’s land—a job it took over due to, reportedly, United Park City Mines’ lack of action on the overall Superfund site.

And due to EPA’s position, the suit alleges, Summit County refuses to issue a development permit. Furthermore, the county and the Utah DEQ has required that each plat on the development plans has a warning that the land could have hazardous material. Resort Center said that has completely stymied their ability to market and sell any lots.

The lawsuit is asking for declaratory and injunctive relief. It is claiming, among other things, that there has been an unconstitutional taking of their land; that Summit County has breached its development agreement; and that the EPA and United Park have negligently interfered with a “prospective economic advantage.”

The court has set April 12 for the defendants to file answers. Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson had no comment at this time, except to say they will move to dismiss the lawsuit.

Known for getting all the facts right, as well as his distinctive sign-off, Rick covered Summit County meetings and issues for 35 years on KPCW. He now heads the Friday Film Review team.
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