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OGDEN — After heading back to the negotiating table with environmentalists, the biggest company on the Great Salt Lake has agreed to scale down a huge expansion plan.
In 2009, The Great Salt Lake Minerals Company proposed a plan to increase production of sulfate potash by expanding the stretch land it uses. The company draws water from the Great Salt Lake and dries it out in vast evaporation ponds. Utah is the only place in the country that produces sulfate of potash and it is critical in some kinds of fertilizer.
"It gives the potassium that crops need without the chlorides that can damage some crops' roots," said Dave Hyams with the company.
The company's expansion proposal asked for 91,000 more acres, or 142 square miles, including part of Bear River Bay where most of the freshwater comes in. That area is used by enormous numbers of birds.
The company also wanted a huge new allotment of water. It sparked an outcry from environmentalists, recreationists and wildlife groups.
"Habitat impact to those birds in that use would have been huge," said Lynn de Freitas with Friends of Great Salt Lake.
Now, the company has scaled down the expansion plan. No new water will be taken and the acreage has been reduced 40 percent. Most of the new ponds would be on the salt-rich northwest arm of the lake.
We changed our views. We sat down and met with them. We listened, and we've come out with a new project.
"The significant outcome of the new project proposal is there will be no new expansion proposed into Bear River Bay," Hyams said. "We changed our views. We sat down and met with them. We listened, and we've come out with a new project."
The company agreed to use a new efficiency scheme that will produce the same amount of sulfate potash with less water and less acreage.
"It's a good proposal. It's far better than it was," Frietas said. "We applaud the company."
Critics agreed they could live with the new expansion, but they haven't completely signed off on it until they see additional details. Freitas is skeptical of what mitigation is going to be proposed for impacts.
"Impacts will come, even though it's on a smaller scale," she said.