County commissioners slammed one door Tuesday but ever so slightly opened another for Laidlaw Environmental Services' bid to dispose of radioactive waste in the west desert.
On one hand, the commission voted 3-0 to uphold a Dec. 3 Tooele County Planning Commission ruling that said Laidlaw's existing conditional-use permit does not allow the firm to store low-level radioactive wastes at its Grassy Mountain facility.But commissioners agreed to a second attempt by Laidlaw to amend the permit - provided an independent market study can show there is a need for more radioactive waste disposal.
Commissioner Gary Griffith said Tuesday he agrees with planning commissioners that Laidlaw has not demonstrated the waste market will support the 750,000-cubic-foot storage cell it plans to convert to handle the waste.
"If the need is there, we would want Laidlaw to do it because it will bring us more revenue," he added. "We're zoned for it . . . but our county ordinance also says one of the criteria is demonstrating a need for it."
Laidlaw spokesman John Ward said Tuesday night the waste company previously offered to fund such a market study and remains willing to spend the money.
"We see this as a favorable ruling," he said. "We'll find an independent marketing consultant who is acceptable to the county, and we'll pay for the study.
"Laidlaw is confident that any credible market research firm is going to find an abundance of need for another facility of this type," Ward added.
Griffith said the commission remains skeptical that radioactive waste producers plan to ship enough low-level material to justify Laidlaw's disposal operation.
"But if that material is really out there, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure, `Let's go for it,' " the commissioner added. "If it means more money for our county, it's a no-brainer."
Ward said the Department of Energy reports there are some 60 billion tons of low-level waste at various sites throughout the country, although most of it is being stored on-site.
"If less than 1 percent of that moves somewhere (for disposal), it dwarfs the capacity of our one cell," he added. "And there are another billion tons (of waste) being generated each year."
The commission's determination follows Laidlaw's appeal of two Planning Commission decisions during a Jan. 13 County Commission meeting.
In addition to challenging the Dec. 3 ruling, Laidlaw also appealed a Planning Commission denial last summer of its request to amend the conditional-use permit.
The giant waste management company has argued denial of its proposal would allow its competitor, Envirocare, an illegal monopoly and make it harder for Laidlaw to remain financially viable.
Meantime, while the study is under way, Laidlaw will continue the costly process of applying for the necessary state and federal permits to handle low-level wastes.
Company officials indicate the company has spent nearly $1 million for permits, applications and other costs to date.