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New inland port could be ticket for Promontory Point landfill to take coal ash

March 20, 2018
Crews work around the edges of a proposed landfill on the southern end of Promontory Point on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2018. Construction has begun on a Class I landfill, but controversy has arisen over a proposal to turn it into a Class V landfill, which would allow for a wider variety of waste. Much of the pushback has been due to the landfills location near the Great Salt Lake. (BENJAMIN ZACK/Standard-Examiner)

By LEIA LARSEN • Standard-Examiner staff

Could an inland port opening on the south shore of the Great Salt Lake potentially benefit a landfill looking to open to the north, on Promontory Point? The two sites seemed linked by a lot more than their proximity to the lake.

A bill rushed through the end of the 2018 Utah Legislative Session created an Inland Port Authority to oversee construction and operation of one of the largest international trade hubs in the nation’s interior. Gov. Gary Herbert inked the bill and made it law Friday, despite pleas from Salt Lake City officials and Salt Lake County residents for his veto.

Meanwhile, operators of Promontory Point Resources and its parent company, ALLOS Environmental, are building a large landfill facility on Promontory Point a few thousand feet from the Great Salt Lake near the Union Pacific causeway.

PPR has already invested millions in the site, so it came as a surprise when the company seemingly abandoned its plans to seek out-of-state waste last month by suddenly withdrawing an application for Class V status. 

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.

It seems the Class V permit may have been denied anyway, since a March 1 report by a consultant for the Department of Environmental Quality found no need for another Class V landfill in Utah.

PPR representatives tried to block that report from becoming public. The landfill owners also claimed they are focusing on developing the site under the existing Class I permit.

> PROMONTORY LANDFILL OPERATORS DECRY ‘EASILY ACCESSIBLE’ PUBLIC DOCUMENTS

Utah’s Solid and Hazardous Waste Act says a Class I permit requires a contract with a local government to dispose of waste generated within the entity’s boundaries.

The formation of a future inland port in Salt Lake County could possibly provide Promontory Point Resources with a means to transport out-of-state waste to a site developed on Promontory Point in Box Elder County. The decision to form the port and a port authority was made in the last part of the 2018 Utah Legislative session. (Graphic created by LEIA LARSEN/Standard-Examiner)

That’s how the Inland Port Authority could secure the landfill’s future.

According to the Utah State Auditor’s Office, the Inland Port Authority qualifies as a Utah government body.

“From our analysis, we’re going to treat the thing kind of like an independent state entity,” said State Auditor John Dougall. “Yes, it’s a government entity. It would be independent, though, of general state operations.”

Before the inland port can get off the ground, it likely needs to move waste from a former 770-acre landfill on the site — meaning the Inland Port Authority could soon become a  government entity that owns a whole lot of garbage.

That’s just waste for the short-term. If PPR can contract with the authority as a local government, they might be able to move forward in the long-term with sourcing coal ash from around the country and, possibly, the world.

What is coal ash and why is it concerning?
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 have contaminated waterways in the past and can harm humans or wildlife. The Obama administration debated for most of its two terms about whether or not to call the material hazardous. Because so much of the waste is produced by industry and in power production, classifying coal ash as hazardous could mean skyrocketing disposal costs and a headache for industries.

The EPA ultimately left disposal and oversight of the material up to the states. In 2016, Congress further relaxed regulations for the waste and gave states even more control. This past session, in 2018, the Utah Legislature passed a bill allowing landfill facilities to inspect themselves, including landfills with coal ash.

PPR’s representatives have been publicly equivocal about whether they’d take coal combustion residuals, or CCR — a material more commonly called coal ash. However, their own documents and statements at meetings suggest otherwise.

In fact, the company’s website includes a “frequently asked questions” section discussing the value of coal ash.

“There are three types of CCR,” the website reads. “One of those types of CCR, fly ash, is a valuable constituent in commercial concrete. It is so valuable the state of California has mandated that future commercial concrete contain specific levels of fly ash.”

While coal waste is plentiful now, coal-burning power plants are phasing out. That means the waste could become a real money-maker for the landfill operators.

“The total volume of fly ash production drops every year making it potentially more valuable in the future,” its website says. “PPR has the ability to look in the future for re-use of these materials. Though there may not be viable product uses for all forms of CCR today, it does not mean there won’t be in the next decade.”

And PPR would know. It has a close relationship with Tetra Tech, a California-based engineering and consulting company.

Tetra Tech did the bulk of the engineering studies for the landfill’s permits. The president and CEO of ALLOS Environmental, PPR’s parent company, is John Angin. Before ALLOS, Angin was vice president of business development at Tetra Tech.

Tetra Tech has also spent the last few years partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy,  researching the amount of rare earth elements that could, someday, be extracted from “coal-based resources,” including ash.

PPR’s website goes on to say that it intends to landfill CCR “separate from other wastes for future recovery.” 

Importing coal ash through port authorities from other countries isn’t new.

An Ohio-based company raised alarm in North Carolina last year after contracting with the N.C. Port Authority to receive and store fly ash sourced from India. The company is shipping the material by truck or train for use in cement and concrete.

The connection between coal products and the Inland Port Authority is already on some Utahns’ radar.

The Utah Legislature made a last-minute change to its Inland Port Authority bill to note that “the transporting, unloading, loading, transfer, or temporary storage of natural resources may not be prohibited” at the port site.

Per the Salt Lake Tribune, this has caused “concerns that a coal-transfer operation or similar facility might be destined for the area.”

The Standard-Examiner asked ALLOS representative Brett Snelgrove whether the Inland Port Authority was part of the landfill’s future plans.

“We cannot answer issues regarding the inland port until we see firm details on the actual infrastructure,” he wrote in an email. “As you know, we are focused on opening our Class I landfill this year and are looking for opportunities under that within the state.”

PPR has often reminded the public that it can still take coal ash under its current Class I permit. It has also long maintained that a Union Pacific rail spur connecting to the site will be an integral part of its business.

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. 
 
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.

Such a spur would make it easy to link with the Salt Lake City-based international port, which could send all types of materials to and from all kinds of places by rail.

The Standard-Examiner asked the Inland Port Authority bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jerry Stevenson (R-Layton), whether he had the Promontory Point landfill in mind when he drafted the legislation.

“That’s a strange question,” he said. “I’m not sure what everybody is smoking on this thing.”

But, Stevenson added, he fully supports a landfill on Promontory Point. He has for the past 20 years.

“I was a chair for a waste energy facility in Davis County 17 or 18 years ago. They were looking for uses out there then,” he said. “I will tell you it’s a great spot for a landfill, it really is.”

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