Layton burn plant closure will improve air quality, but overall benefits mixed

Monday , March 20, 2017 - 5:15 AM1 comment

TIM VANDENACK, Standard-Examiner Staff

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story misidentified the location of the Davis Energy Recovery Facility. The Standard-Examiner regrets the error. 

LAYTON — The leader of a Utah environmental group says the looming closure of a trash incineration facility in Davis County will help improve air quality along the Wasatch Front.

“There’s no question that will be a benefit to the overall health of the area,” said Brian Moench, president of the board of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “Everybody on the Wasatch Front will breathe a little easier, but especially people in the neighboring communities.”

Still, the environmental benefits of the planned May 31 closure of the Davis Energy Recovery Facility aren’t completely black and white, according to Nathan Rich, executive director of the Wasatch Integrated Waste Management District, which operates the incineration facility.

Yes, air quality along the Wasatch Front will likely get better, he acknowledged, but the closure could also indirectly result in higher greenhouse gas emissions, a factor, scientists say, in global warming.

RELATED: Davis County burn plant to be closed this year, eliminating about 30 jobs

“Like most things, it’s a little more complicated than we like to make it,” Rich said.

The Wasatch Integrated Waste Management District board voted March 1 to shutter the burn plant, as it’s known, in light of declining interest in the steam the facility produces. It would have needed an estimated $8 million in upgrades, in part to comply with tougher environmental standards, and that also figured in the decision.

The Layton plant, located on the east side of Hill Air Force Base, had burned a portion of the trash generated by Davis County residents, creating steam that was sold to the military complex for heating. Air Force officials had expressed declining interest in acquiring the steam, though, and environmental regulators were pressing for upgrades to the plant to reduce pollution emissions.

Air pollution has been a standing problem along the Wasatch Front and Moench, while sympathetic to the 30 or so workers who will lose their jobs when the Layton facility closes, had tough words for incineration facilities. All of them are potential health hazards, he said, “that’s just unquestionable.”

Emissions rise high up in the atmosphere and don’t only adversely impact the areas where such plants are located, he said, but drift and impact zones hundreds of miles away.

With the burn plant closure, though, Rich noted the Air Force will likely turn to natural gas as an alternative power source, and more carbon emissions will be created when the substance is burned. What’s more, taking trash to a landfill instead of burning it will likely result in increased methane emissions, another greenhouse gas.

All told, the environmental benefits to the burn plant closure will be mixed, he said.

Meanwhile, clients that have used the burn plant have been calling non-stop, Rich said, wondering about the alternatives.

Police departments across Utah, Idaho, Nevada and Arizona have used the facility to dispose of old evidence that no longer has to be kept. Likewise, some companies have incinerated waste at the Layton facility so they can tout themselves as “zero landfill” operations, firms that don’t contribute to waste accumulation at landfills.

There’s a hazardous waste incinerator in Utah, which is more costly than the Layton plant, Rich said, but the nearest facilities outside the state are in California, Washington and Oklahoma.

The Layton plant, built in 1987, will accept waste to be burned through May 19, ahead of the planned May 31 closure.

With the burn plant going away, officials plan to pursue development of a transfer station and recycling complex over the next two years or so. The station and complex will be needed to keep the Davis County landfill from filling up too quickly.

Contact reporter Tim Vandenack at tvandenack@standard.net, follow him on Twitter at @timvandenack or like him on Facebook at Facebook.com/timvandenackreporter.

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