Editor’s note • This story is available to Salt Lake Tribune subscribers only. Thank you for supporting local journalism.
Bad news, and not much else, continues to pile up for a controversial landfill near the shores of the Great Salt Lake.
A review commissioned by the Utah Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control found Promontory Point Resources (PPR) has failed, once again, to make a convincing case that Utah needs another large landfill importing other states’ garbage.
The findings mark a significant blow for PPR in its second attempt to secure a Class V permit that would allow it to stockpile trash from places like California and Idaho. The company’s landfill in Box Elder County long has held a Class I permit, which means it already can take waste from a local government, but PPR has not managed to ink any contracts.
“Clearly, at face value, it failed the litmus test for addressing statutory requirements,” said Lynn de Freitas, executive director of Friends of Great Salt Lake, who obtained the report via a standard public records request and shared it with The Salt Lake Tribune.
Asked for comment on the division’s next steps, solid waste program manager Brian Speer wrote in an email Wednesday that the report, issued May 7, was “not intended to be released to the general public.”
“I’m not sure what your source is regarding [consultant] SC&A’s DRAFT evaluation of the Promontory Point Landfill Class V Permit Needs Assessment Report, but we have not finished reviewing the draft evaluation,” Speer wrote. “... I do not have time today for additional discussion. Thank you for your interest.”
The consultant’s report is not titled as a draft. The cover letter accompanying the evaluation refers to the document as a “review” and a “report,” but does not include the word “draft.”
Reached by phone Wednesday, Speer said that when the division provided the report in a public records request, “it was clearly unintentional.”
“We’re still working on it,” Speer said, “we’re not really ready for folks to review that and pose questions on it yet.”
Asked for comment, a spokesperson for PPR sent a short emailed statement from company management: “We were told by [the Department of Environmental Quality] that the report is still just a draft under review and subject to change.”
A shifting business plan
PPR and parent company Allos Environmental had lofty ambitions for its landfill a few years back, submitting an application for Class V status so it could import waste like coal ash and contaminated soil from around the nation via the rail spur bisecting the lake.
The company even constructed a massive landfill cell and associated buildings in 2017 without securing the Class V permit or a single waste contract. Activity at the site came to an abrupt halt less than a year later.
State law requires the landfill operator demonstrate another Class V facility is needed in Utah. But Utah Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control’s consultant, SC&A, issued a March 2018 report that found PPR had not done so.
PPR abruptly withdrew its Class V application the prior month in an unsuccessful effort to keep that report from becoming public.
To date, the landfill has yet to take a single piece of trash.
In October 2020, PPR submitted another Class V application, this time with a different business plan. Instead of seeking industrial waste from around the nation, the landfill operator now says it wants everyday household and commercial garbage from northern Utah and southern Idaho.
PPR also still wants to import contaminated soils from California via train. It owns another landfill and transfer station in that state.
The company’s latest application further notes the landfill could “stockpile materials for recycling, beneficial use, and other waste-processing technologies to recover embodied energy.”
This time the business plan doesn’t mention coal ash, but that wouldn’t necessarily stop PPR from taking it in the future.
“It’s a different spin,” de Freitas said. “But again, they didn’t do their homework assignment very well.”
What the latest report found
This time around, SC&A found that not only had PPR not demonstrated the need for a Class V landfill under its new business model, but it also hadn’t addressed questions raised in years prior.
PPR’s application “is missing content to meet all statutory requirements and has several important data and information gaps,” SC&A wrote, later noting “the adverse environmental impacts associated with the Class V permit outweigh the environmental benefits.”
The only benefit to the state PPR demonstrated, according to the report, was the potential for lower tipping fees.
The report repeatedly pointed out that despite PPR’s efforts to court Weber County for a waste contract — the county is the largest source of municipal trash in its target market — it had failed to get any business.
While PPR insisted its location made it a competitive choice to other landfills in the region, SC&A found the opposite. Unlike most landfills, which are off a major freeway or highway, to access the PPR landfill, “truck traffic will always need 45 minutes to 1 hour to travel” on a winding county road.
That road has “has several challenging ... curves not designed for large trucks and trailers traveling at normal speeds,” the report found.
PPR also ignored or downplayed several other viable landfill options for northern Utah and southern Idaho, it noted. The Franklin Hill landfill, for example, has been permitted near the state line and already has a willing customer in Davis County, although Box Elder County has blocked it from opening. There’s also a large regional facility, which will be jointly operated by Idaho and Wyoming, set to open next year.
“This landfill is further along in the process than implied by PPR,” SC&A wrote. “... Expected to open in 2022, the new IDAWY landfill would have an initial capacity of 100 years plus additional land for future landfill development and capacity.”
Regarding the importation of contaminated dirt from California, SC&A concluded that PPR hadn’t proved more capacity is needed for such waste. A Class V landfill in Utah’s Carbon County, which also brings in California soil via rail, has 1,000 years left of space.
In its statement, PPR said it “cannot imagine that DEQ will take seriously what is so clearly an unserious report.”
As an example, the statement said SC&A did not use an economist to reach its conclusions.
“We are confident,” PPR added, “that the department will make decisions based upon data-driven analysis as opposed to idle commentary.”
Most significantly to de Freitas, the reported noted the potential impacts to groundwater and the adjoining lake from a landfill leak.
“It’s risky business,” de Freitas said, “in terms of putting all those values of the Great Salt Lake at risk for a self-serving business prospect.”
PPR argued that because it has already received a Class I permit, it does not pose an environmental threat. But SC&A pointed out things could change with the new use that comes with Class V approval.
“This means that much of the material disposed [at the landfill] would be California hazardous waste,” the report noted. “Concerns were expressed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Utah Department of Natural Resources, the Great Salt Lake Advisory Council, and business stakeholders that depend on the Great Salt Lake, among others, about potential adverse environmental effects in and around the Great Salt Lake ecosystem related to a change in permit class. These public documents remain part of the record for this area of the evaluation, but PPR did not address them.”
The lake supports a billion-dollar extraction industry — one business neighboring the landfill uses minerals from the lake in organic fertilizers — as well as a multimillion-dollar brine shrimp industry. The lake is also a site of hemispheric importance for migrating birds.
“The implications that come with contamination from landfill activities, this puts all of that at risk, period,” de Freitas said. “So it’s location, location, location that’s problematic.”