New concerns surface about Utah’s role in Oakland terminal

Source: The Salt Lake Tribune

Gregg Galecki represents the Utah Water Quality Board on the state panel that decides which projects get funded through a pool of federal mineral royalties known as the Permanent Community Impact Fund.

Now Galecki’s employment as an environmental engineer with a Carbon County coal mine has sparked new concerns about how the Community Impact Board, or CIB, conducts business.

The watchdog group Alliance for a Better Utah is questioning Galecki’s potential conflict of interest as the CIB deliberates whether to loan four coal-producing counties up to $53 million to invest in an Oakland, Calif., export terminal.

“From the very beginning, this funding deal has reeked of corporate cronyism,” said Chase Thomas, the Alliance’s advocacy counsel. “To uncover that one of the board members responsible for approving this handout to the coal industry is actually employed by that very industry only adds to the many reasons why this deal has left a bad taste in the mouths of those across the state.”

Galecki could not be immediately reached for comment.

CIB funds normally are spent on local projects geared toward offsetting the impacts associated with mineral development on public lands, which are exempt from property taxes. In April 2015, the CIB voted to approve the Oakland loan, but it required statutory changes to alter how mineral royalties could be used. The 2016 Utah Legislature passed SB246, creating the “Throughput Infrastructure Fund,” and seeded it with $26 million this year and another $27 million next year.

Documents indicate Galecki’s employer, Bowie Resource Partners, Utah’s largest coal producer, intended to invest in the Oakland bulk terminal.

In a letter Wednesday to CIB chairman Keith Heaton, Thomas asked whether Galecki disclosed his potential conflict and whether he recused himself from votes concerning SB246 funding of the Oakland terminal.

According to CIB minutes, Galecki was present at the April 2015 meeting while the $53 million loan was discussed. The minutes indicate there were no abstentions but do not specify who voted in favor of the loan. They identify Mike McKee and Ron Winterton, commissioners of Uintah and Duchesne counties respectively, as the only no votes.

“He has made no attempt that he hide the fact of his employment nor has he recused himself from the votes,” said Heaton, who did not head the CIB at the time of that vote. “At that time, we had no reason to believe there was a conflict.”

Members of the Utah Attorney General’s Office met with Galecki after Thursday’s meeting, according to Heaton, but it was not clear what they discussed.

The export terminal was dealt a severe setback last month when the Oakland City Council passed an ordinance banning the handling of coal at the terminal. At Thursday’s CIB meeting, however, Carbon County Commissioner Jae Potter said officials from Carbon, Sevier, Sanpete and Emery counties will submit a new, more detailed application for CIB financing of their plans to ship coal overseas.

Read The Salt Lake Tribune article here.

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