The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) approved the Tekoi Balefill Thursday, signing off on a lease between a Sandy waste company and the band's executive committee - over the objections of tribal members who said sacred religious sites might be damaged or destroyed.
The deal promises to bring the tribe at least $15,000 a month for up to 50 years, for use of 500 acres near an area where Goshute leaders are trying to locate a high-level nuclear waste storage site. After recyclable material is removed, the garbage will be compacted into bales, making the "balefill" the first landfill of its kind west of the Mississippi.
A news release from the CR Group, the Sandy waste company behind the project, said tribal Chairman Leon Bear noted that "tribal archaeologists determined that it contains nothing of historic or religious significance.
"Our people view the coming balefill as a tremendous and necessary benefit to us economically," Bear said in the statement. He did not return a call seeking comment.
The release also said the BIA had conducted hearings in Salt Lake City and undertaken an extensive review of an Environmental Impact Statement on the project before granting unconditional approval in early July. The agency deemed the lease "in the best interests of the tribe's economic development and [that it] furthers tribal self-determination."
However, several members of the 121-member band objected to the deal in April. They said the area contains sites important to rites of the Native American Church, of which they are members, and that tribal leaders and the BIA had failed to inform ordinary Goshutes about the plans.
The Skull Valley band has been in turmoil for more than two years, with separate factions claiming authority over tribal business and Bear's indictment last year on charges of embezzling tribal money and cheating on his income taxes.
Design and engineering for the new garbage project is under way. Construction is expected to begin in December.
News about the new waste project comes the month after a federal judge ordered a former Goshute business partner to pay the band $625,000 of the tribe's $750,000 investment it had made in a Tooele County recycling facility. The ruling upheld a bankruptcy judge's ruling that John Chivers had misrepresented the 1992 deal.
While plans move forward for the balefill this summer, attorneys for the nuclear waste project are preparing for closed-door hearings in Washington, D.C., before the Atomic Safety and Licensing Board.
The outcome of this round of hearings may be crucial to the future of the privately owned and operated nuclear waste site, since the company must prove that there would be no significant harm to people or the environment if a jet fighter from nearby Utah Test and Training Range crashed into one of the storage casks holding high-level nuclear reactor waste.