Amy Roberts: Dirty politics or just a toxic environment?
If you haven’t heard about the city’s proposal to create and operate a hazardous waste facility in Round Valley — you’re not alone. Few have. While it has been discussed a handful of times over the past year — roughly once per quarter during City Council meetings, it hasn’t exactly been promoted in hopes of soliciting public opinion. The news has been quiet. Suspiciously so. Buried in agendas and webpages even the most informed among us rarely come across. And the FAQ section on the city’s website about the matter? Well, let’s just say the answers haven’t exactly been provided by soil contamination experts.
The plan includes creating a repository in Quinn’s Junction to store over 50,000 cubic yards of toxic soil from the plot of land that will allegedly become an arts and culture district. For visualization purposes, a UPS delivery truck has roughly 700 cubic feet of cargo space. So we’re looking to permanently store more than 2,100 big brown trucks full of toxic soil at an entry point into town. For those new to Park City, our soil contains a whole bunch of cancer-causing chemicals like lead, arsenic, silver, mercury, selenium, barium, cadmium and chromium due to our mining roots and some railroad history. It’s why that stream that runs along City Park is called “Poison Creek.”
The proposed landfill site — which is situated within feet of popular trailheads, the Quinn’s Junction playing fields, the Park City Heights neighborhood, the dog park, hospital and Health Department — is only a small fraction of the “whoa, wait a minute…” discussion we should all have been encouraged to have. But we weren’t. Because, for some odd reason, this plan flew under the radar. There’s no telling who piloted it at such low altitude, but I can take a guess at why.
The vetting process was rushed at best. When you’re talking about storing toxic soil, environmental and health experts should be weighing in. The public, especially those downwind of the site, should be aware of the precise toxin levels in the soil that will blow their way — entering their homes, filling their lungs, settling on their water taps, burrowing into their children’s toys. Since the landfill won’t be capped until it’s full, the city will do its best to offset the wind and mitigate contaminated soil from blowing into those homes. But the only way to do that is to water down the dirt frequently. We’re in a severe drought. There doesn’t seem to be a Plan B. Before moving forward, studies about long-term impacts should be conducted. There should be transparent budget discussions: How much will it cost to operate this landfill? Maintain it? Pay out the lawsuits when something inevitably goes wrong and Erin Brockovich writes a book about the incompetence of it all? At the very least, this budget should include the salary for a full-time employee who is marginally qualified to manage a hazardous materials facility. Right now, there isn’t one. Hence my earlier skepticism about the validity of the FAQ answers.
On its face, the concept of a repository is not new. In 2013, then-mayor Dana Williams assembled a Soils Commission to figure out what the town should do with all of its dirty dirt. Back then, creating and operating a repository for hazardous mine waste was a consideration. It would behoove us to recall the commission’s report stating: “A landfill will not address the disposal challenges associated with hazardous contaminated soil; it will still need to be disposed at Clean Harbors [a hazardous waste facility in Tooele, Utah] or another hazardous waste disposal facility.”
So why now, eight years later, is there a rushed and shush-shushed plan to do just that?
The approval process for opening a hazardous waste landfill usually takes years — not a few months. That’s because it takes time to consult experts and conduct studies and gather public input. As it should. This isn’t an option that should be taken lightly. Or decided quietly. The health of residents and our environment should not be the sacrificial lambs for an arts and culture district — one that has limited public support at best.
Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident and the proud owner of two rescued Dalmatians, Stanley and Willis. Follow her on Twitter @amycroberts.
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