Box Elder County documents reveal cozy ties between commissioners and Promontory Point Landfill
PROMONTORY POINT — Much has been written about a 2,000-acre landfill situated near the shores of the Great Salt Lake. The controversial waste dump — years in the making — has yet to receive any trash.
Licensed since 2004 to handle Class I waste from cities and counties within Utah, its current owners — Promontory Point Resources LLC, and wealthy parent company Allos Environmental — aim to haul in the more lucrative and potentially more toxic Class V refuse from other states as well.
In March 2016, state lawmakers acted on the landfill’s behalf, passing a resolution in support of Promontory Point Resources acquiring its coveted Class V permit.
At the time, legislators were led to believe the non-operational landfill had been processing municipal waste for years. And its location — “in the middle of nowhere,” as Rep. Mike Schultz described it — seemed well-suited for the task.
That permit application included coal ash transported by rail from coal-fired power plants around the country. Coal ash is federally regulated due to contaminants such as arsenic, cadmium and mercury that could pollute air and water.
In mid-2017, the state Division of Waste Management & Radiation Control (DWMRC), along with an independent contractor’s needs assessment report, identified deficiencies in PPR’s Class V application that included potential environmental impacts and no existing need for another Class V landfill in Utah.
In February 2018, amid robust public concern about the facility’s environmental impacts, Promontory Point Resources withdrew that Class V application, then reapplied with a revised version in October 2020.
Their current Class 1 permit for municipal waste comes up for renewal this August.
On December, 4, 2019, the Box Elder County Commission hastily approved a contract with Allos Environmental for the Promontory Point landfill to handle county waste in emergency situations — in spite of the item not appearing on the commission’s agenda and the public having no notice of it.
Fast forward to March 3, 2021, when county commissioners rescinded that contract with equal speed.
A YouTube video of that meeting contains this brief explanation from the County Attorney’s office: “This is just an agreement, I think you’re all aware of the situation. It was a contract that was entered into unknowingly in violation of procurement requirements. So this is an agreement to rescind that contract to resolve that situation so we don’t have a contract that was obtained improperly. Nothing was done on the contract while it was in existence so this just does away with the contract.”
However, Friends of the Great Salt Lake (FOGSL), an organization that advocates on behalf of the lake’s environment and ecosystem, took note of the Commission’s opaque action in December 2019.
On March 5, 2020, FOGSL filed a request with Utah’s Division of Waste Management & Radiation Control (DWMRC) to review what they deemed to be an illegal contract.
On Jan. 13, 2020 Allos/Promontory Point Resources CEO Ann Garner sent a letter to DWMRC Director Ty Howard, which indicates the need for such a contract.
“Per the requirement of our Class I Solid Waste permit, we are submitting a copy of our contract with Box Elder County. The attached contract meets the requirements of our permit …”
In his Feb. 6, 2020 reply to Garner, Howard said the contract met the requirements and Promontory Point Resources could begin accepting solid waste “upon finalization, funding and approval of financial reassurance.”
But FOGSL not only questioned the Commission’s circumvention of open meetings requirements but also the contract’s contents — or lack thereof.
“There was very little information within the contract that would make it what we’d consider a viable contract,” said Friends Executive Director Lynn De Freitas. They are still waiting for a response from Howard regarding their petition for review.
In 2014, Randy Moulding launched efforts to open the 225-acre Franklin Hills Landfill on his 2,200 acres in Box Elder County’s Hansel Valley. But he claims county officials have repeatedly blocked his progress, instead advancing Promontory Point Landfill over his site.
In October 2020, Moulding — a longtime landfill operator in Weber County — filed suit against Box Elder County and its three commissioners, alleging equal protection violations along with arbitrary and capricious agency action regarding his rezone petition for a landfill.
On Dec. 12, 2019, Moulding emerged from the five-year process with Utah’s Department of Environmental Quality with his regional landfill permit for Franklin Hill in hand. But in August 2020, the Box Elder Planning Commission denied his rezone request and the County Commission followed suit on Sept. 2, 2020.
According to Moulding’s court claim, evidence backing his state permit contradicted the Planning Commission’s findings supporting their denial.
“The reason I stay in the fight is because that’s what I do for a living, I’m in the landfill business,” Moulding said, adding that “Weber and Davis Counties need a landfill up north, (because) going south through all that traffic isn’t good.”
Both Weber and Davis Counties currently haul their trash southward to landfills in Tooele County.
After clearing all the hurdles in the state’s DWMRC permitting process, Moulding believes he deserves the chance to make a go of it with Franklin Hill.
“But Box Elder County commissioners — for whatever reason — want Promontory and they don’t want mine,” Moulding said.
Box Elder County documents reveal cozy ties between commissioners and Promontory Point landfill.
A January 2015 letter of intent from the current Commissioners indicated their interest in the county purchasing Promontory Point Landfill for $5 million, and then sharing royalties from waste deposit and product removal over 30 years.
But that sale never materialized. During an August 2015 Commission meeting, the County attorney — after consulting with Utah Counties Indemnity Pool — raised concerns about the constitutionality of such a partnership.
In December 2016, Utah’s Private Activity Bond Board met to consider PPL’s request for $16 million. That request, approved with a 5-4 vote, limited the use of those funds to Class I waste only.
Meanwhile, Promontory Point Landfill’s second crack at obtaining a Class V permit is wending its way through the state DWMRC.
A needs assessment prepared for Allos/Promontory Point Resources in October 2020 by NERA Economic Consulting shows a shift in focus from their previous Class V permit application.
For starters, coal ash will not be accepted. It identifies their target market for Class I municipal waste as northern Utah and southern Idaho. The more lucrative Class V waste market focuses on northern California’s glut of excavated soils.
In terms of transport, tipping and disposal fees for that excavated soil, the NERA analysis portrays PPL as competing very well with similar facilities in Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada and Oregon.
But De Freitas of FOGSL said she’d feel better if DWMRC would seek an independent, third-party review.
Brian Speer, solid waste section manager for DWMRC, said they’re negotiating a contract with a third party to review the NERA needs assessment. But he acknowledged that effort might differ from what De Freitas has in mind.
“Its purpose is simply to ensure that all the statute requirements for the needs assessment have been met and to help us formulate an opinion,” Speer said, “By using an outside contractor, we just have some additional expertise to assist with that.”
De Freitas points to the state’s economic boon — about $1.32 billion annually — from mineral extraction, brine shrimp harvesting and recreation on and around the Great Salt Lake.
In her thinking, protecting the self-contained lake’s delicate ecosystem should be reason enough to pursue an independent analysis. And there’s more at stake than revenue.
“There are 10 million migratory birds annually that rely on the Great Salt Lake for resting, staging and nesting; 338 species of birds rely on that system. Thirty percent of the Pacific flyway — waterfowl, swans, geese — come through to use the lake for obvious reasons,” De Freitas said.
When DWMRC issues a draft permit, a 30-day public comment period follows. But Speer could not project if and when that might happen for Promontory Point Landfill.
“There’s a lot of public interest in this permit application,” Speer said, and we are receiving input and questions from a lot of folks. Some of that slows down our review process and some of it helps.”
By email, Brett Snelgrove, vice president of operations for Allos Environmental in Utah, declined to answer questions for this story, saying, “Unfortunately, our experience with journalists has been so poor that we’ve decided to no longer respond to these requests for the time being.”
Subscribe to Utah Stories weekly newsletter and get our stories directly to your inbox