How would Promontory Point Landfill benefit most Utahns? Not much, it seems

Sunday , February 04, 2018 - 5:00 AM2 comments

A proposed large landfill on the southern tip of the Great Salt Lake’s Promontory Point is generating a lot of public interest, particularly as it nears fruition. 

The site has been permitted to accept local municipal waste as a Class I landfill since the early 2000s, but it has yet to receive any trash. That seems set to change soon; Allos Environmental, parent company of Promontory Point Resources LLC, broke ground on the 2,000-acre site last spring. All that’s necessary before it begins operations is approval from the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, a signature from Gov. Gary Herbert — and a source of garbage.

That’s why the landfill’s operators are turning to bigger, commercial customers and out-of-state sources through a Class V permit. That’s also what has some Great Salt Lake advocates concerned.

Many of those concerns involve unknowns. What type of waste will the landfill ultimately accept? How could possible contamination from those sources impact the water and ecosystem? How will that, in turn, impact the millions of birds and the multi-million dollar lake-based industries that depend on them?

“It’s not a ‘not in my backyard’ ... point we’re trying to make,” said Lynn de Freitas, with FRIENDS of the Great Salt Lake. “But if you think about where’s its located and potential impacts on the ecology of the system and economics of the system, it seems it’s really a poor fit.”

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The site will initially create roughly 30 jobs for Box Elder County, possibly more as the landfill grows.

“High-paying jobs, not your average minimum-wage jobs,” said Brett Snelgrove, spokesman for Promontory Point Resources LLC. “Higher than the state average by far.”

The operation will also generate around $2 million in annual revenue for the county from property taxes and tipping fees.

“We’re very confident in the boost it will have to the economy,” Snelgrove said.

While officials with Box Elder County have given nods of support to the landfill, mostly by approving $35 million in bonds, they have no intention of sending the county’s own municipal garbage to Promontory Point. The current, county-owned landfill at Little Mountain has at least 50 more years before it reaches capacity.

“The county does have the availability to move into additional lands next to (the Little Mountain landfill), to expand,” said Box Elder County Commissioner Jeff Scott. “It’s been there for years, it functions effectively. Economically, it’s been really good for the citizens.”

Other nearby counties seem to share the same sentiments. 

Weber County currently trucks around 720 tons of trash a day to the Wasatch Regional Landfill in Tooele County. That’s a long haul, but it’s a little faster than the route to Promontory Point — an 80-mile drive traveling north to Corrine, then back down the Promontory peninsula.  

“But if you take it across the (railroad) causeway, if they were to put waste in containers and put it on rail, it’s immensely shorter,” said John Watson with the Weber County Transfer Station.

Things become more complicated with rail, however. For nearby municipalities, it’s cheaper to send garbage by truck rather than by train, said Nathan Rich. He’s the executive director of Wasatch Integrated Waste, which manages Davis County’s garbage.  

“Anyone can drive a truck on the highway. Almost anyone can get into the truck-haul business. It’s very competitive,” Rich said.

Because almost all the major rail lines in Utah are owned by one company -— Union Pacific — trains only become cost-effective when they’re hauling distances of 200 to 300 miles.

“For me, that’s always defined that project,” Rich said. “They’ve never been able to solve their access issues.”

Both Davis and Weber counties also send their garbage to landfills leasing state-owned School and Institutional Trust Lands, which means they at least contribute revenue back to Utah schools. If the counties sent their garbage to a private landfill like the one owned by Promontory Point Resources LLC, it wouldn’t generate that benefit.

COSTS AND ECOLOGICAL CONCERNS

While most Utahns don’t stand to gain much from a landfill on Promontory Point, some worry about high costs from possible environmental impacts. State lawmakers who pushed approval of the landfill on Promontory Point often touted its remoteness as a selling point, but it lies on a prominent feature surrounded by the Great Salt Lake. 

“There is probably no better place in the state of Utah for us to move solid waste to because it’s such a remote site. And it has not much of a chance of becoming anything but remote,” said Sen. Jerry Stevenson during hearings on the landfill during the 2016 legislative session. 

While it’s true that the site is difficult to access by road, Promontory Point borders Bear River Bay to the east, home of an important migratory bird refuge. To the west is Gunnison Bay, with an island that serves as an important rookery for American white pelicans. 

As Great Salt Lake shrinks, fate of nesting pelicans unknown

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Utah Department of Natural Resources have both issued letters about the landfill raising concerns about potential impacts to the millions of birds that depend on Great Salt Lake habitat. 

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Although the landfill’s owners stress that the Class V permit they seek won’t allow them to take hazardous waste, it does allow them to accept toxic materials like coal ash and contaminated soils.

USFWS notes “many sources of debris at Class V landfills do not decompose and can persist in the environment for many years.”

Birds, they said, could mistake the landfill’s waste for food and become sick. They could try and land in contaminated ponds. USFWS also raised concerns about coal ash blowing off the site — the lake is prone to 70 mph wind gusts. Coal ash contains mercury and arsenic which could settle in the water and nearby wetlands.

Then there’s the increase in road and rail traffic, which could mean more bird collisions. 

In their application for a Class V permit, the landfill owners noted the site isn’t located on an “ecologically or scientifically significant” site. DNR took issue with that statement, noting the Great Salt Lake “remains one of the important natural areas on the North American continent.”

Brine shrimp harvesters operate off of Promontory Point, too, just miles from the landfill site. So does Compass Minerals, which has submitted a letter highlighting concerns about springs found on Promontory Point, groundwater movement on the peninsula and the potential pathway water contamination. Both industries contribute millions to Utah’s economy.

Snelgrove said the operation understands concerns about ecological costs to the Great Salt Lake.

“It’s a treasure to us, as well; it’s not something we’re trying to harm in any way. In fact, we welcome comment and input,” he said.

He noted Promontory is taking steps to prevent contamination from spreading. The landfill site is fully lined, he said. It will have 35-foot fences and a buffer to catch any blowing debris. Snelgrove also said the landfill intends to pursue a waste stream that’s mostly industrial and commercial, not municipal, which should result in less blowing garbage. Industrial waste also has less decomposing food and organic waste — the type of garbage that typically attracts predators of migratory birds.

“We’re trying to be very transparent. We want to be good stewards of this great state,” Snelgrove said. “We feel a little like we’ve been mischaracterized. That’s why we welcome anyone to come see (the site) for themselves.”

The company’s 1,100-page Class V permit application, which includes detailed plans for its mitigation efforts, is available online.

Contact Reporter Leia Larsen at 801-625-4289 or llarsen@standard.net. Follow her on Facebook.com/LeiaInTheField or on Twitter @LeiaLarsen.

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