Quickly and without discussion, the Box Elder County Commission voted Wednesday to rescind a contract that would have sent the county’s trash to Promontory Point in case of an emergency.
It was the only waste contract the controversial Promontory landfill, currently owned by ALLOS Environmental, has secured in its 20-year history. Box Elder commissioners approved the arrangement in January 2020 without properly noticing the item on a public meeting agenda. The idea was to send county garbage to Promontory if the county-owned landfill somehow became inoperable.
“It was a contract that was entered into, unknowingly, in violation of procurement,” a representative from the county attorney’s office told commissioners at their weekly meeting. “Nothing was done on the contract while it was in existence.”
The three Box Elder County commissioners did not respond to multiple requests for comment. It is not clear why they were concerned about an emergency at the county landfill or whether they will seek to reinstate their waste agreement with ALLOS through the proper public notice process.
The contract prompted FRIENDS of Great Salt Lake in March 2020 to file a complaint and petition for review with the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, which regulates landfills in the state.
“We had a problem with the fact the public didn’t have an opportunity to participate in a discussion” about the contract, said FRIENDS executive director Lynn de Freitas.
The group opposes the landfill due to its proximity to the Great Salt Lake and the potential dangers posed to migrating birds and lake-based industries from leaking garbage juice.
ALLOS has renewed its effort to obtain a Class V permit for the landfill, which would allow it to take waste from other states. Under its current Class I status, the company can only take waste via a contract with a local, in-state government. It has yet to secure any viable contracts or take a single piece of trash.
‘A terrible place to build a landfill’
The company will need to clear several hurdles to become a Class V facility. The director of the Utah Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control needs to sign off on the plan, and the division previously commissioned a study that found ALLOS had not demonstrated a need for another Class V landfill in the state.
Class V status also requires approval from the governor and Utah Legislature. State lawmakers approved the Class V plan in 2016, and that approval still stands, even as ALLOS canceled its original Class V application and submitted a new one with an entirely different business plan.
Some legislators now say they regret approving the landfill in the first place.
“This is a terrible place to build a landfill,” said Rep. Douglas Sagers, R-Tooele, at a committee hearing on Feb. 25. “I voted for it, [but] had I known where it’s actually at, I thought it was further inland, I would have never voted for it.”
Rep. Timothy Hawkes, R-Centerville, agreed the landfill was sited in an environmentally sensitive area. Hawkes works for the multimillion-dollar Great Salt Lake brine shrimp industry, and the Promontory Peninsula is an important launching point for shrimping boats. It also neighbors a large minerals harvesting operation. Hawkes said he tried to raise those concerns with his fellow lawmakers in 2016.
“Sometimes the response I got back was ... ‘It’s just a Godforsaken hellhole out there, who cares?’” Hawkes said. “Well I care, and some really important industries that employ a lot of people care.”
Hawkes added that ALLOS lobbyists misrepresented aspects of the landfill plan to lawmakers.
“It was pitched to us a bunch of different ways. One, as an important economic opportunity for Box Elder County and there was also a sense of, ‘this is urgent, you’ve got to pass it now,’” Hawkes said. “A lot of legislators felt duped because the project wasn’t quite ready to go live. As a matter of fact, it hasn’t take waste to date, and it’s five years later.”
Hawkes is sponsoring HB399, which would require landfill operators to first apply for Class V status before going to the Legislature. Legislative approval would also be revoked if the landfill company withdraws its application or fails to secure all the other Class V requirements after five years.
“My concern was, did we effectively create a blank check? And how long is it good for?” Hawkes said. “What if somebody withdraws their application, then radically changes their application and comes back eight or 10 years later?”
The bill easily passed out of committee and received unanimous approval on the House floor. It now awaits a vote in the Senate as the hours tick toward Friday’s adjournment.
But HB399 won’t apply to ALLOS Environmental’s current Class V application, since Hawkes did not make the bill retroactive, saying he was persuaded it would be unfair to the company.
Steve Erickson, a lobbyist for Utah Audubon, spoke in support of the bill nonetheless, noting it would help avoid the “start and stop, bait and switch” process seen at the Promontory landfill in recent years.
“This is a small step in a good direction,” Erickson said.