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Utah groups ask for relocation of PacifiCorp coal ash landfill

Environmental and health groups in Utah say a PacifiCorp-owned coal ash landfill poses a threat to water quality and nearby communities and should be moved.

During an August 2016 flood, roughly 2,370 cubic yards of coal ash from a landfill located near PacifiCorp's shuttered Carbon power plant spilled into the Price River. PacifiCorp, doing business as Rocky Mountain Power, has agreed to pay a $13,000 penalty and reimburse the state $2,385 in administrative costs. The company will also assess the environmental impacts of coal ash on the Price River.

But the Sierra Club, the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah, or HEAL Utah, and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment want more to be done. The groups recently asked the Utah Division of Water Quality to direct PacifiCorp to move the landfill, something the company said is not necessary.

The coal ash landfill is about a mile south of the Carbon power plant at the mouth of Panther Canyon, a dry wash that drains into the Price River.

According to a settlement with the DWQ, on Aug. 4, 2016, about two inches of rain fell over a two-hour period, an amount a consultant hired by the company said qualifies it as a 100- to 400-year storm event. Flood water that had accumulated during the storm sent coal ash into the Price River.

In comments filed in the settlement, the groups said PacifiCorp should have to move the landfill. Matt Pacenza, HEAL Utah's executive director, in a statement called the landfill "a serious threat to water quality and communities living downstream."

But company spokesman Paul Murphy in a statement said the "landfill has been capped and closed with a highly engineered system specifically designed to prevent a release of any material into the environment." He said the company has safely operated the landfill for four decades and will continue to do so. "Unfortunately, the flooding event that triggered the coal ash runoff in question hit the area during construction of the cap and before all of the final design measures were in place," Murphy said.