State efforts to move 10 million tons of Sharon Steel tailings out of Midvale have been snagged by protests about who is responsible for the stuff once it's gone.

Three potential contractors for the removal of the tailings believe the bid package illegally requires the contractors to assume full liability for the tailings after they are removed from the Sharon Steel property, which is on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Superfund list of cleanup priorities.The contractors - W.W. Clyde, Springville; Texas-based ITEX Environmental; and Green River Landfill, Green River, Emery County - have filed complaints with the state Division of Purchasing, saying they can't get insurance bonding for this project because of the risk imposed by the state.

"It's kind of a scary proposition for a number of contractors to assume that liability," said Blake Miller, attorney for Green River Landfill and ITEX.

Further, the state's requirement that the contractor be "strictly liable" for the waste contradicts a federal law that protects "response action" contractors who help remediate Superfund sites.

"We don't believe the state can change federal law," Miller said.

The state, however, believes strongly that the contractor in this case should be liable, said Dianne Nielson, director of the state Department of Environmental Quality.

The bid package allows the contractors to dispose of the material wherever or however they choose, as long as the disposal methods meet state and federal requirements.

"If we pay a contractor to take material off-site to a location that he chooses, we shouldn't have to assume liability. That becomes responsibility of the contractor and rightly so," Nielson said.

The EPA has proposed putting an earthen cap on the 270-acre Sharon Steel site to keep the tailings from blowing away or leaching into water sources. That is estimated to cost $53 million.

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State and local officials would rather have the tailings removed, a project that could cost between $50 million and $224 million.

If removal costs more than capping, the difference would have to be borne by state taxpayers.

The DEQ had hoped to get a firm bid for removal by the end of December so that it could ask the 1995 Legislature for a special appropriation, if necessary. That hope has now been delayed.

Though the EPA has expressed a desire to get the Sharon Steel project going, it will allow the state time to resolve this bidding dispute, Nielson said.

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