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Waste tax called unfair

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EAST CARBON CITY, Carbon County — In a matter of a few seconds, the "rotary unloader" at East Carbon Development Corp. (ECDC) effortlessly lifts an entire train car laden with garbage, twists it in midair like an amusement ride and dumps it upside down.

And out spills 100 tons of contaminated soil from San Francisco.

Within moments trucks are lining up to haul the trash to storage cells where it will be dumped alongside garbage from the Wasatch Front, as well as 11 other states, some as far away as New Jersey.

On Thursday, the waste dump — one of the largest of its kind in the country — hosted state lawmakers visiting to conduct public hearings on whether out-of-state companies are paying enough in state fees to dump their trash in Utah.

Although Thursday's hearing in Price was a bust, with only two citizens who came to testify, ECDC was eager to show lawmakers firsthand its state-of-the-art operation that buries about 850,000 tons of waste each year.

"As a commercial landfill, we want an opportunity to compete on a fair basis" with municipal dumps that take the same waste, said Kirk Treece, general manager of ECDC, which is now owned by Allied Waste.

ECDC officials were hoping to give lawmakers an earful about the new waste tax passed by the 2003 Legislature that increases the fees paid for dumping the same waste government dumps take. But the law exempts from the fees those wastes going to municipal landfills.

Of primary concern is the 3 percent gross receipts tax that took effect this July. Lawmakers passed the tax for commercial companies but not municipalities. Local governments that operate dumps now have to pay an annual tonnage fee to cover the cost of state regulation, but they are exempt from the gross receipts tax.

Local officials, testifying at the public hearing, also said that's unfair.

East Carbon Mayor Dale Andrews, also ECDC's equipment operator, said the tiny town of 1,200 people is hugely dependent on the company, which employs more than 50 local residents and gives a two-year college scholarship to every graduate of the local high school.

The city receives $700,000 a year from the company in tipping fees each year that the town uses to pay off a $15.5 million bond that it borrowed from the state to build sidewalks, sewer, water and gas lines, Andrews said.

"If we see a reduction in (waste) material, it would devastate us," he said.

"I don't feel (ECDC is) asking for special treatment," he added. "We feel we should be treated the same."

That was echoed by Carbon County Commissioner Mike Milovich, who told lawmakers: "Repeal the 3 percent tax because it's inequitable."

Thursday's morning hearing is one of four hearings held throughout the state this year as part of a two-year study by the Hazardous Waste Regulation and Tax Policy Task Force.

The task force plans to report back to the 2005 Legislature on whether changes are needed in regulatory oversight, whether to allow Envirocare of Utah to expand its business and whether waste companies are shouldering their fair share of the tax burden.

Today, lawmakers will tour International Uranium Corp., followed by a public hearing in Blanding at noon.

Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, and co-chairman of the task force, said he was disappointed at the low public interest.

"It's unfortunate," he said. "The purpose is to give citizens the opportunity to comment."

But the only ones commenting this day were elected officials, who warned that increased competition for municipal garbage could threaten ECDC.

Olympic bid committee leader Tom Welch hopes to open a landfill in Tooele County. Two others are in the permitting phase — the "Solitude" landfill near Green River in eastern Utah and the proposed "Promontory Point" landfill in Box Elder County.

ECDC, which opened in 1992, receives about 20 percent of its garbage from out of state. Some of that waste, such as lead-based paints from demolished buildings, is considered hazardous by definition in California but not under Utah law.

E-mail: donna@desnews.com