News & Events

Promontory landfill operators decry ‘easily accessible’ public documents

March 15, 2018
Promontory landfill operators decry ‘easily accessible’ public documents

By LEIA LARSEN • Standard-Examiner staff

When a landfill developer on Promontory Point suddenly withdrew its permit application to take out-of-state waste last month, they said it was to “better collaborate with stakeholders, like the DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality).”

But a letter sent last week by an attorney for Promontory Point Resources indicates the relationship between the private business and the state agency isn’t so rosy.

The seven-page letter was hand-delivered March 5 to DEQ’s director of Waste Management and Radiation Control — the agency in charge of the landfill’s fate.

Click here to read the letters and more documents related to Promontory Point Landfill

PPR’s attorney demanded the DEQ remove public documents concerning the landfill from its website and social media and directed state officials to stop speaking with members of the public about the site, located near the shores of the Great Salt Lake.

The letter also accused the DEQ of showing bias and complained the division “made public records easily accessible to environmental activists opposing Promontory’s Application.”

When contacted for comment, PPR’s representatives issued a press release late Wednesday evening reiterating the complaints in their letter to DEQ.

Public consternation for the landfill has amplified as the company has expressed interest in storing materials like coal ash from outside Utah’s borders.

What is coal ash?

Coal ash is exactly what it sounds like — the byproduct of burned coal. Environmental advocates urged the Environmental Protection Agency to designate it as a "hazardous" waste, since it contains arsenic and heavy metals that can contaminate water and harm humans or wildlife. But because so much of the waste is produced by industry and in power production, classifying coal ash as hazardous could mean skyrocketing disposal costs.

PPR’s letter claims the division made no attempts to correct the public when they said the landfill planned to accept “hazardous” waste.

Documents filed by PPR and comments at public meetings throughout the two-year process of attempting to become a Class V make it plain the group planned to rely heavily on accepting coal ash, a material that concerns environmental advocates.

The site has yet to receive any waste, but it’s located near the shores of the Great Salt Lake, an ecologically sensitive area for migrating birds. It’s also near multi-million dollar lake-based brine shrimp and mineral extraction businesses.

PPR worked to prove Utah needs a Class V landfill on Promontory Point through a Needs Assessment Report filed as part of its permit application and, later, in a Needs Assessment Addendum.

What is a Class V landfill?
A Class V landfill is a commercial facility that can make its own contracts and take waste from anywhere, including other states. While Class V landfills can only accept "non-hazardous" materials, they can still take certain wastes environmental experts find concerning, like coal ash, PCBs, asbestos or petroleum-contaminated soils.
 
Class V landfills require approval from the state legislature, the local government where it's located, the Department of Environmental Quality and the governor.

Opponents of the landfill, however, pointed to existing landfills along the Wasatch Front and throughout Utah that have plenty of capacity left. They argued the landfill would provide few benefits to the state.

> Promontory Point landfill withdraws permit to take out-of-state waste

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

Due to its complexity, DEQ turned over the Needs Assessment Report Addendum to a consultant, Virginia-based SC&A, for evaluation.

While still awaiting DEQ’s decision, PPR abruptly withdrew its permit application on Feb. 16. Two weeks later, their attorney issued the letter to the department.

A brief history of the Promontory Point Resources landfill
March 2011 — The Utah Department of Environmental Quality renews a Class I landfill permit for a 2,000-acre site on the tip of the Promontory Point peninsula through the year 2021. The landfill never opens. 
 
2016 — Promontory Point Resources, LLC, acquires the property and its Class I permit. In March, they secure the Utah Legislature's approval of a Class V permit. October-December, they secure a $16 million bond from Box Elder County and the Governor's Office of Economic Development after telling a GOED board they only planned on building a Class I landfill.
 
March 2017 — PPR sends an application for a Class V landfill to DEQ. The company's intention to seek coal ash alarms many environmental advocates. 
 
February 2018 — PPR abruptly withdraws its Class V application.
 
March 2018 — A consultant for DEQ issues a report finding no need for another Class V landfill in Utah. PPR issues a letter to DEQ threatening legal action if the department posts documents about the Class V application online, including the consultant's report.

The March 5 letter asked the DEQ to not complete conclusions about their Class V Needs Assessment. Since PPR withdrew the permit, they said they refuse to pay for anymore of the division or consultant staff’s time.

The letter said it would be unfair to make public any findings or opinion on the Needs Assessment, since PPR wouldn’t be able to respond.

PPR’s attorney ended the letter by threatening legal action and claiming that because of the division’s actions, “Promontory has lost millions of dollars and at least another year in project delays.”

DEQ RESPONSE

Waste Management and Radiation Control Director Scott Anderson responded on March 8. He made it clear he disagreed with PPR’s accusations.

In his five-page response, he explained how Utah’s Government Records Access and Management Act works. The division, he wrote, conducts the public’s business and has a responsibility to communicate with Utahns.

Approximate area of proposed landfill. Roughly half of the rocky 2,000 acres site will be devoted to landfill use, with the other 1,000 acres serving as buffer. (Google Maps)

He also included a copy of SC&A’s evaluation: The consultants concluded March 1 that Utah has no need for a Class V Landfill on Promontory Point.

“(PPR) does not demonstrate the need for additional Class V landfill capacity in Utah, does not provide a robust market analysis, and has some remaining data gaps and therefore does not establish the need for the facility,” wrote Greg Beronja, SC&A’s president and CEO, in the evaluation.

Anderson noted that the public had a right to access DEQ documents related to the Promontory landfill, including SC&A’s findings.

“Finalization of the contractor’s evaluation of the Needs Assessment Report Addendum was my decision as Director, and Promontory has no right to interfere with it,” Anderson wrote. “SC&A’s report is my document, not Promontory’s. It was produced at my request by my contractor, and as Director, I pay for it.”

He reminded PPR that they could file a response to SC&A’s evaluation, which would also become a public record.

“Promontory’s withdrawal of its Class V permit application was a voluntary decision made at its own risk,” the director wrote.

While DEQ gave a steadfast response to PPR’s efforts to blur transparency on its landfill, the department still removed its social media posts about the facility. It has also removed web pages dedicated to the landfill and the documents relating to Promontory’s Class V landfill.

The Standard-Examiner, however, has re-posted all the documents. Links to the documents, including this month’s letters, are posted at the bottom of this story.

WHAT’S NEXT

PPR withdrew its Class V permit on Feb. 16 for unknown reasons. They are now focused on developing the landfill under their current Class I permit.

What is the difference between a Class I and a Class V landfill?
A Class I landfill is a municipal facility. That means it must be owned and run by a city, county or other government. It can also be a privately owned landfill that has a contract with a local government entity to take waste produced in their jurisdiction. 
 
A Class V can take the same kinds of waste as a Class I landfill, but it can get them from anywhere. It doesn't need a contract with a local government. It can take waste from coal-fired power plants, businesses, municipalities and other states. 

 

It’s not the first time the company has filp-flopped on its status or intentions for the Promontory Point site. In October 2016, PPR approached the Governor’s Office of Economic Development Private Activity Bond Authority seeking a $35 million bond to build a Class V landfill.

After the bond board raised doubts about the benefits of a Class V to the state, PPR returned in December 2016 saying they only planned to build a Class I landfill. The Class I plans earned the board’s bond approval.

Three months later, PPR sent its Class V permit application to DEQ.

“The fact that they turned right around and went ahead and applied for a Class V, to me, shows they had no intention of abandoning the Class V. I think it’s bad form,” said Weber County Clerk Ricky Hatch, who serves on the board. “It bothered me. And it bothered pretty much everybody on the authority board.”

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