SWEETWATER COUNTY — Sweetwater County commisioners heard an overview of Ciner’s proposed trona facility expansion project during Tuesday’s regular commission meeting.

Tyler Schiltz, environmental superintendent at Ciner Wyoming LLC, told commissioners that the Ciner Unit 8 capacity expansion would produce 1.1 million tons per year of additional soda ash at the company’s Big Island Mine and Refinery north of Green River. The project will include construction of a new refinery unit (Unit 8) as well as a new ore shaft and stock pile and rail track loop.

A public information session on the expansion is scheduled from 5-8 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 25, at the Holiday Inn patio room, 1675 Sunset Drive, Rock Springs.

The Ciner Unit 8 Capacity Expansion project is estimated to cost $426 million. The construction is estimated to take two years to complete with a workforce of an additional 560 employees predicted at peak construction. Schiltz said an estimated 50-60 new full-time employee will be needed once the project is done. The new unit is expected to be operational for the life of the mine, which at current production rates is expected to be approximately 60 years.

Documents provided to commissioners outline projected economic benefits for Sweetwater County during the construction and operation phases of expansion and in the form of taxes. Estimated economic impacts are $33.3 million to the area each year during construction and $24.2 million annually during the operational phase.

Tax income from the project will come in the form of property taxes, production taxes, and sales, use and lodging taxes. Estimated property tax income for Sweetwater County is $13,900 in 2020, $125,200 in 2021, and $139,000 in both 2022 and 2023. Estimated sales, use and lodging tax income for Sweetwater County is $9,200 in 2020, $212,000 in 2021, $419,000 in 2022, and $640,000 in 2023.

For the Unit 8 Capacity Expansion Project, trona production is expected to increase by 2.2 million tons per year and increase the production of soda ash by 1.1 million tons per year. Sweetwater County will assess an ad valorem mill levy on the taxable value of this production, estimated to total $2.9 million. In addition, the state of Wyoming levies a 4% severance tax on the taxable value of trona production. It is expected to bring in about $1.7 million.

Ciner is pursuing an Industrial Siting Permit for the project from the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (WDEQ). Under the proposed timeline for the Ciner expansion project, the industrial siting permit application would be delivered in May of 2020 with construction starting in the early fourth quarter of 2020.

The proposed Unit 8 and associated facilities will be located within existing Ciner facility boundaries and fence lines. Studies done to assess project impacts include one on traffic and another on socioeconomics. Ciner is consulting with the Bureau of Land Management regarding proposed activities within sections of land with BLM surface management and submitted a notification of proposed activity to the BLM on Jan. 31, 2020. Ciner is also pursuing other permits necessary for the expansion.

After the Ciner presentation, Commissioner Wally Johnson asked about the state of the trona industry. He said that trona is extremely important to Sweetwater County, but he has heard comments that right now there is more supply of trona than there is demand.

Craig Rood, site manager for Ciner Wyoming, said that China makes synthetic soda ash and always has an excess supply. He admitted that the market for trona is “a little soft” right now, but said the he thinks the timing of the expansion project and other projects in the trona patch will work out, and that local trona will displace soda ash made in China.

Commission Chairman Randy “Doc” Wendling said the Ciner expansion is a good project and will be beneficial to the county.

OTHER ACTION ITEMS

— A motion to transfer $89,949.05 to the county’s general fund from county reserves for the Sweetwater Events Complex died from the lack of a second. The Events Complex had requested the additional funds due to a decrease in mill levy money it has received during the current fiscal year as well as an increase in health expeditures.

Chairman Wendling expressed concerns about other component units in the same position coming forward and wanting additional funds. He said when that happens to other entities, they make adjustments and take from their own reserves if needed. Commissioner Roy Lloyd made a motion to approve the budget amendment, but it failed when no one seconded his motion.

— The commission approved the new position of economic development specialist in the county’s Land Use Department as well as a request to staff the new position. It will be a full-time position with benefits as of March 1, 2020. The annual salary will be $40,000. Commissioner Johnson was the only one to vote no on the request.

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