A landfill facility on the tip of Promontory Point, and only a few hundred yards from the Great Salt Lake, has indicated it will again apply for a Class V permit that will allow it to receive waste from other states.
The Promontory Point Resources, or PPR, landfill became controversial in 2017 after it submitted its first Class V permit application and associated documents which made clear its plans to take toxic coal ash from other states. Those plans fizzled after quibbles with the Department of Environmental Quality and when a DEQ-commissioned report concluded that another Class V landfill was not needed in Utah.
On Oct. 30, however, PPR sent a letter to neighboring property owners proclaiming it will try again.
“You are being provided, as specified by law, with this notice that Promontory Point Resources intends to submit an application for a Class V permit,” the unsigned letter says.
David Owen, a spokesperson for PPR, confirmed the landfill operators are seeking Class V status. He said officials with Allos Environmental, PPR’s parent company, declined to provide further comment and he would not say whether they would again seek to import coal ash as part of the operation.
“They have already answered that question several times and I suggest you read the permit application,” Owen said in a text message, claiming PPR had submitted a new Class V application to DEQ.
A DEQ spokesperson, however, said the department has not received any application and declined to comment further.
The landfill currently has a Class I permit, which allows it to take a variety of waste through a contract with a local government like a city or county. PPR has failed to secure any contracts, however, and its landfill cell and buildings have sat vacant since their construction in 2017.
The landfill ran into financial trouble earlier this year after PPR failed to make payments on its $16.3 million bond.
PPR’s previous Class V plans included shipping in waste from throughout the nation via the railroad causeway traversing the Great Salt Lake. Its original application documents noted a variety of waste opportunities, including contaminated soil from California and coal combustion material (another term for coal ash) from as far away as Iowa.
Technically, a Class V permit would allow PPR to handle the same kind of waste it is authorized to take now under its Class I status. The company has frequently repeated the fact that the permit only allows “nonhazardous” waste, although “hazardous” is more of a bureaucratic term than a scientific one.
In 2014, for example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency decided to regulate coal ash as nonhazardous, even though it contains toxic heavy metals that are dangerous for human health and the environment. The problem is, the nation is grappling with how to handle billions of tons of the stuff as more and more coal-fired plants go offline. Coal ash impoundment breaches have contaminated waterways and made people sick in Colorado, Tennessee, Puerto Rico and elsewhere.
Lynn de Freitas with FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake said any kind of waste at the Promontory Point landfill could pose a threat to the nearby lake.
“Whether it’s a Class I or a Class V, the concerns remain about the proximity of that kind of land use,” she said.
Lake biologists and geologists have argued that the bedrock beneath the landfill is complex. A leak of toxic garbage juice could easily find its way to Great Salt Lake, harming the mineral extraction industry, brine shrimp harvesting and the food web for millions of migrating birds, they have warned.
“It’s inconsistent [with] public safety or looking out for economic and ecological resources — the contributions the lake is recognized for,” de Freitas said of the landfill operation. “We still think it’s a bad idea, simply said.”
Once it submits its Class V permit application to DEQ, PPR will still have a few hurdles to clear. Class V landfills require approval from the Utah Legislature, the governor, the DEQ’s solid waste director and the local government where they are located.
PPR is unlikely to run into much trouble with local government — Box Elder County has signed off on their plans without much fuss, including the landfill’s previous Class V application.
The Utah Legislature easily approved PPR’s Class V status in 2016, although public outcry has apparently made the landfill less popular among lawmakers in recent years. In 2019, for example, a bill that would have loosened the Class V approval process failed to make it out of committee, despite its backing by several high-profile lobbyists. It is unclear whether the Legislature’s prior Class V approval will apply to the new permit.
Gov. Gary Herbert never publicly weighed in on the landfill’s Class V ambitions and it also is unclear whether the incoming governor, Spencer Cox, would approve a permit.
Whether DEQ will greenlight the permit appears to be a toss-up. In 2018, waste director Scott Anderson appeared on the verge of denying Class V status after he commissioned a report that determined it wasn’t needed (PPR preemptively withdrew its permit application instead). Anderson has since retired and was replaced by a new director, Ty Howard, last year.
Howard has denied Great Salt Lake advocates' demands for more rigorous hydrogeological studies at the site. He also approved PPR’s groundwater monitoring plan even though DEQ had previously requested better modeling.