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Park City School District plans to start moving contaminated soil in December

Contaminated soil piles sit behind Treasure Mountain Junior High in Park City on Aug. 24, 2023.
Rick Egan
The Salt Lake Tribune
Contaminated soil piles sit behind Treasure Mountain Junior High in Park City on Aug. 24, 2023.

Park City School District staff and environmental consultants heard concerns from locals at a town hall Thursday about the contaminated soil piles stored outside Treasure Mountain Junior High.

Billions of years ago when Earth formed, Utah was blessed with an abundance of metal. That led to a century-long mining boom in the Wasatch Mountains beginning in the 1860s.

As a result, mining byproducts called “tailings,” which include concentrated levels of lead and arsenic, are littered throughout Park City today, including at the school district campus.

The Environmental Protection Agency took cleanup action around Treasure Mountain Junior High in 2016. The school also entered into an environmental covenant with the EPA. The covenant established rules about how to manage the soils at Treasure Mountain Junior High, and is stricter than Park City’s soils ordinance.

A contractor working at nearby McPolin Elementary in 2017 stored contaminated soils in a pile behind the junior high. That was in violation of the covenant, and should not have been stored there longer than 30 days. A separate pile of construction soil was also formed last year behind Treasure Mountain by school contractors.

The problem was school district staff lost sight of the covenant, Park City School District Chief Operating Officer Mike Tanner said.

“The Park City School District accepts responsibility for the fact that we violated the covenant, and we did not do so willingly. We did not do so because of incompetence, we did so because of the legitimate dropping of the ball of the knowledge that existed in the covenant,” Tanner said. “That happened for multiple reasons. We had a change in personnel at Park City School District, there were changes in personnel at Park City Municipal, and those files that had that information got lost in that process of the transition.”

Tanner said moving the soil will cost taxpayers between $1 million and $3 million. He said the school district is working to find grants to offset the cost.

Environmental consultants working with the school district said they plan to begin removing the piles around Dec. 18 during winter break. That is contingent on the EPA and the state approving the school district’s plan. The EPA previously told the district the federal agency would step in and remove the soil next year if local officials couldn’t craft an approved plan.

Stephen Galley, whose firm R&R Environmental is working with the district, said they expect removing the soil to take about six weeks.

The group has identified three other windows - in February, April, and June - when students will be out and the work can be completed.

A Park City school parent who identified himself as Bill, said at Thursday’s town hall he won’t be comfortable until the soil is completely gone.

“I can’t figure out why there’s a good reason that the school should actually stay in operation until we have this problem rectified in its entirety, because every day my children have told me that they've been allowed to play in very close proximity to these piles,” he said.

Around 30 people virtually attended the town hall Thursday.

Another parent named Belinda also expressed frustration, and said her children have played on the piles.

“My kid was on it the other day, just from P.E.," she said. "Balls go over there all the time, kids are jumping on it. My kids have been playing on it for years.”

Resident Ryan Porte called for greater transparency.

“We have not been told the truth all along,” Porte said. “This is a safety and a health issue for the entire community as well as juveniles, and we need to rely on you all. And having a date but no contractors and no public awareness of the process for identifying contractors is a big concern.”

David Roskelley with R&R Environmental said he wouldn’t be comfortable with his children playing on the soil, but added it doesn’t pose a risk to people if they avoid the piles. However, he said removal of the soil will have to be done when the school campus is empty, because the protective cap will be broken.

Galley said the soil will be capped to ensure safety each night during the removal process.

The EPA and Utah Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) could not be reached for comment Friday on the status of the district’s soil removal plan.