Decades ago, heavy metal waste from the Midvale Slag and Sharon Steel sites poured into the Jordan River, polluting the water, altering its flow, and damaging native wildlife and their habitats in the Salt Lake Valley.
Now, a new restoration project funded in part by a 1991 Natural Resource Damages settlement with the responsible parties is proposed in the city of West Jordan, and it could provide the community with cleaner water, improved wildlife habitat, and new opportunities for outdoor recreation.
From the 1870’s to the 1950’s, the Salt Lake Valley was a major regional metals mining and milling center. The Sharon Steel Mill and Midvale Slag sites, located on the east bank of the Jordan River in the town of Midvale, were part of a complex of mills and smelters owned and operated by United States Smelting, Refining and Mining. The waste produced at these sites contained concentrations of heavy metals that are toxic to humans and wildlife, such as lead, cadmium, and arsenic. The sites were cleaned up in the 2000’s; the Sharon Steel tailings pile was stabilized and is now being evaluated for redevelopment, and the Midvale Slag Site was redeveloped into the Bingham Junction mixed-use development.
The Big Bend Habitat Restoration Project is a collaborative effort between the city of West Jordan, state of Utah, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that is designed to restore the natural resources that were damaged by these sites. Named for the “big bend” in the river that wraps around the project site, the effort would restore the area by forming a new 68-acre nature park and a wildlife reserve.
“There aren’t many projects that inspire the support of so many organizations, positively impact the environment, provide access to unique recreation opportunities and require minimal taxpayer dollars. The Big Bend Habitat Restoration Project is a slam dunk,” said City of West Jordan Mayor Jim Riding. “I have watched it developing for many years – it will be a gem within our community, and I’m so excited to have it finally underway.”
The nature park, located on the western half of the project site next to the Jordan River Trail, would feature a four-acre fishing pond, new nature trails, wildlife viewing opportunities, interpretive exhibits and a parking area. One mile of newly constructed river channel would meander through the park, improving the Jordan River’s water quality, floodplain, and wildlife habitat.
The area on the eastern half of the site would be managed as a limited access bird and wildlife reserve. Featuring a diversity of native trees like cottonwood, box elder, peachleaf willow, chokecherry, and wild rose bushes, the reserve would support foraging and nesting habitat for migratory birds like the golden warbler and Bullock’s oriole, as well as a variety of other wildlife. The new tree canopy would shade portions of the restored river segment, lowering water temperatures and improving conditions for native fish.
The public is invited to provide comment on the proposal beginning on September 20, 2018 and ending on October 20, 2018. Copies of the proposal can be found at the West Jordan City Hall and West Jordan Public Library, or online at https://www.doi.gov/restoration/news/.
To learn more about the Big Bend Habitat Restoration Project and the history of the Midvale Slag and Sharon Steel sites, view our online storymap. To learn more about how our natural resources are restored through the Natural Resources Damage Assessment and Restoration program, visit https://www.doi.gov/restoration.