A permit to store toxic waste on Promontory Point never should've gotten this far

Sunday , February 11, 2018 - 4:30 AM7 comments


A landfill on Great Salt Lake’s Promontory Point is an ecological disaster in the making.

And if the worst happens, Rep. Lee Perry is among those who bear responsibility.

  • RELATED: “Box Elder lawmaker has mixed feelings about pushing Promontory landfill approval”

Promontory Point juts into the Great Salt Lake from Box Elder County. Bear River Bay, to its east, provides critical habitat for birds along two of North America’s four flyways. American white pelicans breed on Gunnison Island, to the west, and fly across the peninsula in order to find food and fresh water on the Bear River Refuge.

Brine shrimp thrive in the Great Salt Lake, not only feeding birds, but supporting a $30 million industry. The Utah Department of Natural Resources calls the lake “one of the important natural areas on the North American continent.”

So, naturally, that’s where Promontory Point Resources LLC wants to operate a 2,000-acre landfill.

But not just any landfill — a landfill with a Class V permit, allowing it to accept coal ash, incinerator ash, contaminated soil and industrial waste from out of state.

  • RELATED: “How would Promontory Point Landfill benefit most Utahns? Not much, it seems”

Promontory started life as a Class I landfill in 2004. A Class I permit allows processing of municipal waste, as long as it comes from local cities and counties.

The landfill remains unused. Sending trash to a remote peninsula doesn’t make economic sense for Northern Utah. Even Box Elder County uses a different landfill.

When it purchased the landfill in 2016, Promontory Point Resources immediately set out to obtain a Class V permit, allowing it to accept industrial and commercial waste from outside Utah. That requires approval from the Legislature, the governor and a branch of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality, the Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control.

PPR and its six lobbyists targeted the Legislature first, starting with Perry, a Perry Republican.

During the final week of the 2016 session, Perry sponsored House Joint Resolution 20, supporting a Class V permit for Promontory Point. In a hearing before the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee, lawmakers asked Perry if Box Elder County approved the change. Perry said he expected the county to approve a resolution of support that night.

Local government support is necessary for a Class V permit. Nearly two years later, Box Elder County still hasn’t approved the change.

Rep. Melvin Brown, a Republican from Coalville, asked why the committee was acting before the DEQ made its recommendation.

“Are we just saying ‘OK, somebody’s got an idea; we approve it’?” Brown said. “Or are we responsible to get to know and understand the technical part before we have the responsibility of approving it?”

Good questions, but they didn’t matter. The Natural Resources Committee approved the resolution 6-0, the House passed it with no discussion, and on the final day of the session, the Senate voted 19-5 to grant a Class V permit to Promontory Point Resources.

Promontory Point’s owners say the landfill poses no danger to wildlife or the lake. But coal ash contains mercury and arsenic; in an area that sees 70-mph winds, it could easily poison the lake and its wetlands.

If that happens, it’s not just the birds that die — it’s the brine shrimp and a lucrative industry.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Utah Division of Natural Resources both filed letters expressing concern about a Class V landfill on Promontory Point. So did Compass Minerals, which fears groundwater contamination.

Suddenly, although the permit still needs additional approval, Perry finds himself wondering if he did the right thing. He says Promontory Point Resources never told him it intended to store coal ash and other toxic waste at the landfill.

No? Then why do you suppose the company wanted a Class V permit? For the social status?

“At the time l was told, ‘Business-wise, it’s all ready to happen; if we don’t get all the pieces, it’s not going to happen,’” Perry said. “Do we tell a business, ‘Sorry, you have to wait ... until next year’? That’s a difficult balance.”

No, it isn’t. It’s your job.

Researching an issue is your job.

Stopping bad legislation is your job.

Telling a lobbyist no is your job.

But you didn’t, and as a result, you and the Utah Legislature put a delicate North American ecosystem at risk — along with part of the state’s economy.

If the Promontory Point landfill receives its Class V permit, and if the upper Great Salt Lake dies as a result, you bear part of the responsibility.

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