Developers behind a controversial landfill proposal on the Great Salt Lake have withdrawn a state permit application that would let them bring in out-of-state industrial waste, even though they’ve completed millions of dollars’ worth of site work.
Promontory Point Resources in Salt Lake City already holds a Class I permit, which allows it to take municipal waste from sources within Utah, but its efforts to get a Class V permit have run into opposition from some Box Elder County residents and environmentalists, who fear the firm is seeking to import coal ash and other industrial wastes from out of state.
On Friday, Promontory officials delivered a curt letter to the state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), asking regulators to stop the permit review “until further notice.”
The letter gives no explanation, but it does say Promontory looks forward to working with the DEQ in the future, suggesting the company’s controversial project, which has obtained millions in public financing, is not dead.
“We thought a lot about this. I don’t know what the future holds,” Promontory spokesman Brett Snelgrove said Thursday.
The company plans to complete its landfill, he said, and begin accepting in-state municipal waste this year.
To secure the Class V permit, the project would need to clear a “needs assessment,” demonstrating that Utah needs such a landfill. The company’s assessment has been under review by a third-party contractor after months of back-and-forth between Promontory and the DEQ, which has just received a draft review of the assessment.
Promontory Point Resources’s 10-year Class I permit, meanwhile, is valid through October 2021, according to Allan Moore, a program manager with DEQ’s waste management division, who is overseeing the permit application.
The company’s 2,000-acre property sits at the southern tip of the peninsula on the Great Salt Lake that separates Bear River Bay on the east and the hyper-saline Gunnison Bay to the west. The 1,000-acre permit area is on the Gunnison side, close to the Union Pacific tracks that cut across the Great Salt Lake.
Both bays are vital to migratory birds that stop there for food and shelter, a fact that raised concerns for Friends of Great Salt Lake, an environmental group focused on protecting the lake’s ecosystem.
“It’s dangerous to the system because there is evidence of hydrological, groundwater connectivity to the lake. We are concerned about the nature of what this land use would mean,” said the Salt Lake City-based group’s executive director, Lynn de Freitas.
Promontory Point Resources has completed an initial cell, whose floor spans 11 acres, by sandwiching an impermeable flexible liner between layers of bentonite, a kind of absorbent clay. The project includes a collection system for liquids that might leach from the cell and four monitoring wells, three on the down-slope side.
The cell floor is about 300 feet higher than the lake’s high-water level and about 3,000 linear feet from the shore. Waste would arrive either by rail or by trucks making the circuitous trip around the lake’s northeast corner and down the Promontory Point’s remote and sparsely populated east shore.
Word that the Class V permit application is off the table came as a relief to de Freitas, but she expects the issue to return, given the high level of investment already sunk into the project.
“We continue to believe that even a Class I is not a good idea. It brings in household waste. Look under your sink. There is Drano in there,” she said. “It’s a terrible idea and a terrible location. Why are we putting future of the Great Salt Lake at risk with a bad idea?”
Snelgrove contends critics have mischaracterized the project by alleging its goal was to bring “toxic” materials from states that didn’t want them.
“A Class I landfill is built to the exact same standards as a Class V. It’s the same waste stream,” Snelgrove said. “It’s all about who you can contract with.”
That portrayal, countered de Freitas, amounted to sugarcoating the waste Promontory needs to bring in to be profitable.
“You can split hairs when it comes to what constitutes ‘hazardous’ material,” she said. “We had three public information events at which they could have come. They missed three opportunities in university settings to set the record straight.”
The landfill expects to employ up to 30, and Box Elder County will get a $2 per ton cut of the tipping fees.
Going forward the company wants to “collaborate with stakeholders to identify and address all concerns, issues and areas of interest,” Promontory Point Resources said in a statement.
“We are finalizing some contracts, and we will open this year. That should alleviate some concerns,” Snelgrove said. “There’s a lot more that goes into need than just capacity. It doesn’t mean it’s economic.”
Promontory officials also said they intend to educate the public and address what the company calls “misinformation” about its project.