October 10, 2008

Sevier County Planners Table Coal-Ash Landfill Issue

By Stephen Speckman Deseret News

Add one more stumble in the 7-year-old fight to build a coal- fired power plant in Sevier County, this time with a letter to county officials objecting to the plant's proposed waste disposal site being so close to school trust lands.

The Oct. 8 letter is from State School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration associate director John Andrews, who expressed his concern over Sevier Power Co.'s proposal to use a 118-acre privately held parcel that the company has an option to purchase.

"I think we want to engage an environmental consultant to look at potential risks to surrounding lands," Andrews said in a telephone interview Thursday. If the determination is made that there is no significant environmental risk to adjacent properties, "we may not have an issue," he added.

Andrews said there had previously been an informal communication about the landfill concerns between a SITLA employee in Richfield and a county official, but there had been no further discussion and no action on the issue until this week's correspondence.

"The proposed fly ash landfill is located on a small private inholding surrounded by several thousand acres of school trust lands," Andrews said in his letter to Sevier County commissioners and members of the county Planning Commission.

The letter was hand-delivered to planning commissioners before their meeting Wednesday, and it was successful in asking them to table their plans during the meeting to consider the site as a landfill. The commission is now expected to take up the item on its agenda next month.

Andrews said in the letter that using the 118 acres as an ash dump could impact the "value and utility of the surrounding trust land caused by an industrial use that is not compatible with the highest and best use of the trust lands." He said the waste could negatively affect air quality and groundwater. The state's trust also owns mineral rights under the proposed landfill, which, if approved, could block access to those rights, Andrews pointed out.

"We will work constructively with the proponent to try to resolve our concerns," he said.

Sevier Power Co. has been denied permission to store the ash at the site of its proposed 270-megawatt power plant. The company was also told it cannot dump the waste in the county's landfill.

Opposition to the plant has been fierce and resulted in three hearings this week in front of the Utah Supreme Court. Construction of the proposed plant near Sigurd has not started. The proposed landfill site would be 30 miles away from the plant.

On Wednesday, the citizen group Right to Vote Committee was successful in getting justices to put back on the Nov. 4 ballot an initiative that, if passed, will give Sevier County residents the right to vote on whether to allow construction of power plants that use coal as their primary source of fuel.

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