Stericycle won a major local battle Wednesday, clearing the path for the company’s proposed Rowley incinerator — but only by the narrowest of margins.
The Tooele County Planning Commission voted 3–2 to approve Stericycle’s conditional use permit after a tense public hearing held Wednesday night during the commission’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting.
The commission granted Stericycle permission to operate a medical waste incinerator at a site roughly 20 miles northwest of Grantsville after more than an hour of debate among the commissioners.
Stericycle’s current medical waste incinerator, located in a North Salt Lake neighborhood, came under fire last fall when the state department of air quality issued the company an emissions violation. An investigation into the violation is ongoing, but the public fallout caused by the notice of violation prompted Stericycle to develop plans to relocate to Tooele County.
The medical waste handler had already obtained legislative approval to relocate to the Rowley site, which Stericycle agreed to purchase from the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, but needed a conditional use permit from the Tooele County Planning Commission in order to move forward with the relocation process.
Last May, after hosting a series of goodwill events across Tooele County, Stericycle submitted a proposal calling for a 24,000 square foot building for a medical waste incinerator, 4,000 square feet of office space, and another 20,000 square feet for future expansion, plus parking lots, shipping and water facilities on 40 acres of ground near Rowley.
As discussion of the proposal opened on Wednesday, the commission quickly divided into two factions, with commissioners Lynn Butterfield and Jill Thomas voicing strong opposition to the company’s proposal. Martie Leo and Julie Pawlak favored Stericycle, though their opponents were far more vocal, and Todd Castagno appeared to waiver in his decision to support Stericycle’s proposal. Commissioner Bryan Coulter was absent from the meeting.
“We need to think very carefully about this decision,” Thomas said. “We need to be concerned about all waste. People cut corners. Companies cut corners.”
Rather than picking at details within the proposal itself, both Thomas and Butterfield focused on larger concerns, including safety and public perception. Butterfield argued that allowing the relocation would further degrade the county’s public image and hinder growth in the valley, and that the 30 jobs and $5 million investment Stericycle promised would not offset their unpopularity.
“The numbers you are talking about are very small, and the cost to Tooele County for allowing this type of business is great,” Butterfield said. “I am astounded that we are known across the state as a dumping ground.”
Thomas agreed with Butterfield’s assertion that Stericycle would hurt Tooele County’s image.
“High-paid individuals will not move here because they know their companies are bad for the community,” she said.
Additionally, she said, she had significant safety concerns and believed that Stericycle should be treated as a hazardous waste company because of the risk pathological waste can pose to the public.
Selin Hoboy, vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs for Stericycle, insisted that the company was strictly regulated by 15 different agencies. But Thomas said she had little faith in the system’s ability to keep residents safe because of her own experience in the industry.
“When you have people involved, they don’t always do the right thing — they do the thing that will keep their job; the thing that will keep their business operational,” she said.
“I have reported things to the Tooele County Health Department that should have been corrected, but that were not,” she added.
However, according to health department director Myron Bateman, there are no records of such complaints.
Arguments by Butterfield and Thomas largely ran in opposition to public comment during the meeting. Residents who said they had vetted the company were not without questions or concerns — at least one local rancher brought up a previously undisclosed land use conflict with cattle grazing that occurs in the area — but most said they felt Stericycle would be a good corporate citizen and a boon to the county.
Jared Hamner, speaking on behalf of the Tooele County Chamber of Commerce and an assembly of local businesses, said a survey had indicated most businesses, likewise, supported Stericycle’s move to the area.
Randall Jones, a Stansbury resident, said he felt Stericycle and companies like it, represented effective economic use of Tooele’s vast land resources.
“Tooele County, all we have is a lot of empty, useless land that is perfect for putting this kind of waste on,” he said.
Jones said he felt he had benefited from the impact fees and other economic investments paid out by waste industries, and that he felt waste industries in Tooele County had other, additional benefits that improved his quality of life. If Stericycle’s public image problem kept residents and businesses from moving to Tooele, he said, then all the better.
“I’m not anxious for Salt Lake to come around the mountain,” he said.
His comments incised Butterfield, who said he felt compelled to respond.
“There is no worthless land in Tooele County,” he said, “and shame on you for thinking our land is useless.”
Butterfield then made a motion to deny Stericycle’s conditional use permit, and his motion was supported by Thomas. Castagno, Leo and Pawlak, however, defeated the motion.
After losing the first vote, Thomas began a lengthy monologue about the need to consider Stericycle a hazardous waste company and push its incinerator further west, where it would have no chance of impacting Tooele County residents.
Hoboy insisted that the company strove to separate itself from such a classification and that treating Stericycle as such would set a negative nation-wide precedent. Bateman backed most of her assertions.
Eventually, Castagno interrupted the debate to indicate his belief that the question of whether Stericycle handled hazardous waste had already been settled by other agencies, and that the incineration of solid waste was an approved use in the zone Stericycle proposed to occupy.
He did, however, request to add a stipulation to the permit that would require Stericycle to present an annual report on its operations to the public for the duration of the company’s presence in Tooele County.
Castagno then moved to approve the permit, and both Pawlak and Leo voted in favor of the motion. Butterfield and Thomas voted nay, but the permit ultimately passed with 13 conditions by which Stericycle must abide to maintain its permit.
Because the planning commission approved the permit, the Tooele County Commissioners will not have to hold any additional appeal hearings on the issue.
Though the permit represents a significant step forward on a local level, Stericycle must still obtain solid waste, air and water permits from various state and local agencies — a process that Hoboy estimated would take at least six months.
Additionally, questions and comments at last night’s meeting indicate that water supply may pose a significant barrier to the relocation.