Landfill near the Great Salt Lake is underwater financially

(photo courtesy Fox13) A landfill on the tip of the Promontory Point cape jutting into the Great Salt Lake has received its final state permit but environmentalists warn of damage to the lake's fragile ecosystem, including millions of migratory birds. The company appears to be in financial trouble after struggling to sign up customers. Weber County appeared interested but then went with a competing landfill. Box Elder County has signed a contract, but only for emergency use.

A controversial but still-empty landfill on the tip of Great Salt Lake’s Promontory Peninsula appears to be drowning in financial trouble.

Last month, Box Elder County received notice that Promontory Point Resources had failed to make a March 25 payment on its $16.3 million bond. The Salt Lake Tribune has confirmed PPR missed its April payment as well. One of PPR’s contractors, Whitaker Construction, filed a $119,362 lien against the landfill earlier this year. The company is also months past due on $115,000 in payments to three other vendors.

Those events have thrown Promontory Point Resources into default on its bond, which the landfill operator secured with approval from the Box Elder County Commission.

“It’s up to Promontory to work out details with the bond holders,” said county Commissioner Jeff Scott. “These kinds of things happen, especially in the market we’re in with the coronavirus and things shutting down. I’m sure they’ll work it out.”

But the liens against PPR suggest financial trouble struck before the pandemic began taking a toll on the U.S. economy. The three vendor payments came due in early February. And Whitaker’s lien notice was filed on February 19, noting the company’s last day of work at the landfill was in November.

The first U.S. death reported from coronavirus in the United States was Feb. 29 and President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on March 13.

Representatives for PPR and its parent company, ALLOS, did not respond to multiple requests for an interview. Whitaker Construction also did not respond to requests for comment.

The future of the empty landfill site remains unclear. The company used its bond funds to construct buildings, fences, roads and a large landfill cell footprint that has sat unused for nearly three years. Only PPR and its investors are supposed to feel the financial pains of the default. But if the company abandons its business, there’s no money for state agencies to reclaim the site. Those closure funds, or financial assurances, are set aside by the landfill operator to prove it can cover closure costs.

But “until they take waste, the financial assurance mechanism doesn’t kick in,” said Allan Moore, the state solid waste program manager.

A more likely explanation for PPR’s financial woes isn’t the pandemic — it’s the company’s inability to find any customers. PPR started construction on the landfill in 2017 before securing any contracts and without notifying regulators with the Utah Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control.

Back then, PPR was confident it would obtain a Class V permit to take out-of-state waste, especially after it easily won approval for the project from the Utah Legislature and Box Elder County commission. PPR projected the yearly royalties it paid would comprise up to 20% of the county’s budget.

The company plowed forward with its project despite public outcry about its plans to import toxic coal ash from other states.

But PPR abruptly withdrew its Class V permit in February 2018, shortly before the Division of Waste Management released a market analysis that found another Class V landfill was not needed in Utah.

On March 6, Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, introduced a bill, SB250, that would have thrown out the requirement to prove there’s market demand for another Class V facility. Instead, PPR would simply need to get Box Elder County’s backing. The bill, emerging less than a week before the end of the session, failed to make it out of committee.

ALLOS’s website still implies the company will seek Class V status for its Promontory landfill.

“That’s what we’ve heard as well,” Moore said. “We’ve seen nothing yet.”

In the meantime, the landfill has a Class I permit that allows it to take trash from a local government. Weber County had signaled interest, but opted this year to continue with its current waste contractor, as reported by the Standard-Examiner.

PPR managed to ink a contract with Box Elder County in December to take trash “in an emergency” in case something happened to the county-owned landfill. FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake is challenging the legitimacy of the deal since the county commission signed off on it without properly notifying the public.

To date, PPR’s landfill has yet to take a single piece of trash.

Representatives with the bond trustee, UMB Bank n.a., confirmed that PPR failed to make both its March and April payments.

PPR’s bond has been controversial since the company first approached the governor’s Private Activity Bond Authority Board in October 2016.

Private Activity Bonds, or PABs, receive government support (but not government funds). They’re often used to help first-time homebuyers or to fund affordable housing. Sometimes they’re used to refinance student loans or help small manufacturers. The projects typically serve some sort of public good. The bonds are also tax-exempt, which is attractive to investors.

The state board initially scoffed at PPR’s request for $35 million to build its Class V facility, arguing a landfill taking out-of-state waste would not benefit Utahns.

“When this project came in front of the board, it was very unpopular,” said board chair John Crandall. “They [PPR] did a fair amount of politicking. They had some high-power people employed.”

The company’s team of lobbyists have included some big names, such as Spencer Stokes, a former Weber County commissioner, one-time state Republican Party executive director and first chief of staff to Sen. Mike Lee; Jordan Garn, son of former House Majority Leader Kevin Garn; and Lincoln Shurtz of the Utah Association of Counties.

PPR executives Eric Urbani and Brett Snelgrove returned to the PAB board in December 2016, minutes show, saying they only wanted funds for their existing permit for local waste. The board’s staff raised concerns that PPR had not demonstrated a need for another landfill and that “The big market is out-of-state special waste.”

The board narrowly approved $16.3 million for the project, with the stipulation that the bonds only be used for costs related to a Class I landfill.

Three months later, PPR sent its Class V permit application to the Department of Environmental Quality.

“The board specifically asked them if that was part of their plans and they said ‘no,’” Crandall said, calling the turnabout “very disappointing.”