Southern Utah News Articles
What's the value proposition?
My name is Julie Castle. I am the CEO of Best Friends Animal Society and am a proud Utahn through and through. My great-grandfather, David Marshall Stuart, arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 with the first wave of pioneers as part of the Abraham O. Smoot/George B. Wallace Company. Since then my family has called this great state of Utah home.
I am a lifelong resident of the state, born and raised in Bountiful as the youngest of seven. I have lived in and owned property and businesses in Kanab for 23 years.
I was fortunate to attend Southern Utah University, during which time I interned in Washington, D.C. for the Senate Republican Conference, where my “beat” was covering the White House. I then interned for Utah Senator Orrin Hatch as part of his press office. These were invaluable experiences that gave me a behind the scenes look at how government deals are made that affect the rest of us.
Our Bountiful home was situated on a hill on the east bench overlooking the valley. Our view included the refineries on the eastern shore of the Great Salt Lake. We never gave it a thought at the time, but now members of my childhood community are left wondering if the refinery emissions were slowly poisoning family and friends.
My mother died of breast cancer and suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s. My brilliant, daredevil brother, Scott, who was one of the first dirt bikers to conquer Draper’s notorious Widowmaker Hill and famously rode his motorcycle through the halls of rival Bountiful High School, was diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s at age 46 and died this past May. I was diagnosed with advanced stage breast cancer at age 39 and thankfully I’m all clear now. I used to think this was just bad luck or bad genes, but within an area of a few miles around my home there are dozens of similar occurrences. Most of them are early onset conditions and all of them are catastrophic, such as cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, and all are linked to environmental factors which are devastating the lives my childhood neighbors. Such occurrences are distressingly common in the beautiful community in which I was raised, breathing the air that blew in from over the refineries to the southwest.
In 1994 I began working as a volunteer for Best Friends Animal Society and was hired in 1996 as sanctuary employee #17. Last year I was appointed CEO of Best Friends, one of the three largest animal welfare organizations in the United States, which also happens to be the largest employer in Kane County and a major contributor to our local economy. We provide full time jobs for over 400 area residents. In 2018 we paid $17.2 M in local wages and invested another $4 M into local goods and services including construction jobs. That doesn’t count any tourist dollars that visitors to Best Friends bring to local restaurants, shops, hotels and gas stations, nor does it include the numerous volunteers and visitors who invest in second homes. We are proud to invest in a community that offers so much in return – spectacular beauty, rich history, and an unwavering spirit of generosity and integrity among our community members many of whose roots run deep.
Best Friends is a local success story, but that success owes significantly to the hospitality and generosity of the good people of Kanab. Friends will forever have a place in our favorite stories for Nick Ramsay, Susan Honey, Grant Robinson, Calvin Johnson, the Crams, the Clarksons and too many others to name. The kind of generosity and hospitality that I grew up taking for granted as characteristic of my Mormon family, community and by extension Utahns in general.
The reason I’m writing this letter is to state Best Friends’ and my opposition to the Southern Red Sands mining operation, as well as the city’s and the Water Conservancy District’s provision of water to SRS.
The health and quality of life of our community is at great risk right now.
As has been documented by a hydrologic study, and confirmed by Utah Geological Survey (USG), SRS water extraction will, without question, reduce spring flows that are critical to our operation, as well as reducing the water level in Kanab Creek. That in itself is sufficient grounds for Best Friends to oppose the SRS plan, but as problematic as that is, it pales compared to the real threat posed by the scope of the sand mining and the reclamation plan. You don’t need to be a scientist or an engineer to understand the dire implications of the proposed mining, which was approved by the Kane County Planning and Zoning Commission.
SRS has mining claims on 12,000 acres of the sand dunes that stretch from Diana’s Throne, south to the boundary of Best Friends property, and east to Kanab Creek. These dunes are critical for recharging and replenishing the Navajo aquifer via melting snow and rainfall. This area is the recharge zone for the springs that emerge at the mouth of Red Canyon and which flow out of Three Lakes Canyon and the Big Lake and Honeybee Springs areas. These are primary sources of summer water in Kanab Creek.
The dunes lie quietly and shift with the wind. But when disturbed the finer grains and dust blow in the breeze. It’s not called “blow sand” for nothing. These airborne particulates will be a significant health risk to hundreds of our community members who work and volunteer at Best Friends, many of whom work outside all day, and it will have a profoundly negative impact on our 35,000 visitors and volunteers every year.
And it gets worse, the SRS reclamation plan calls for replacing the mined dunes with the sand, clay and silt mix that has been separated from the desired frac sand through washing with what they have been referring to as a “food grade flocculent” or chemical cleaner that separates out the unwanted material. While it’s true that the flocculant, polyacrylamide is a food grade product (whatever that means), it can break down in the environment into acrylamide, which is a neurotoxin and is classed as a probable carcinogen. So, a mix of clay, silt and rejected sand, coated in a potential neurotoxin is what will be spread across 12,000 acres of our aquifer, which also constitutes a pristine recreation area for off road vehicles, hiking, hunting and grazing.
Rainfall that seeps through this layer can carry this poison into our water supply and that of the city of Kanab. It stands to eventually contaminate our springs and our wells. Are we willing to compromise the health and well-being of our community members, young and old, just so a few remote investors can make a lot of money at our collective expense?
I am not a knee jerk environmentalist, but I have spent enough time looking behind the curtain of government and big business to know that the people who stand to profit from this mine don’t give a hoot about Kanab and certainly not Best Friends or the jobs that we provide. They care about the millions of dollars they stand to profit every year, profits that will not go into our local economy. They may say, “but this is our home too,” but most of these investors have no roots here, have no real skin in the game of Kanab’s future or the health of our community. Anyone who hopes and imagines that they will “do the right thing” at the expense of profits is being woefully ignorant.
So what exactly is the value proposition of this mining operation for our community? SRS is offering 40 shift jobs and $150,000-$391,000 per year to the city in water leases, depending on actual use, in exchange for risking the health of our citizens, reducing spring flows, stripping away the sand dunes from Diana’s Throne to Best Friends, including the Peek-a-boo Canyon area, contaminating the aquifer and threatening the viability of the county’s largest employer who provides more than a $21 M annual financial infusion into the local economy. How does any of this make any sense?
As CEO of Best Friends and on behalf of Best Friends, I am writing to officially oppose this mine for the health of our staff, visitors, animals we care for, and the viability of the sanctuary. Best Friends is also opposing it in good conscience for the sake of the wider community. This is not about aesthetics of views or wilderness, although the massive machinery cluttering our landscape will certainly mar one of the only places in the country with uninterrupted views and wilderness. If we go down this road, we can never take it back. It’s permanent damage with long-term health risks that can’t be undone. Best Friends is the canary in the coal mine, but the biggest loser will be Kanab, one of the last clean places in the country. We don’t want to watch as our friends and families suffer at the expense of big business as I suspect they have in Davis County.