Feds approve massive potash mine on dry Utah lakebed; it could bring hundreds of jobs, millions in sales

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The bed of Utah’s dewatered Sevier Lake soon will become a sprawling network of trenches and evaporative ponds producing a valuable form of potash under a decision signed Tuesday by the Bureau of Land Management.

After 11 years of environmental analysis, the Sevier Playa Potash Project still needs to secure some state permits and water rights, but Crystal Peak Minerals is poised to begin construction as soon as next year on its 125,000-acre lease, according to Kevin Oliver, the BLM’s West Desert district manager.

Over the 30-year life of the project, potash production could be as high as 372,000 tons a year, worth $232 million at the current price of $625 a ton, according to Crystal Peak CEO John Mansanti. The firm also expects to extract salt and magnesium chloride and support quality employment in a rural part of Utah.

“The possibility of 175 good-paying jobs is just a thrilling prospect,” said Millard County Commission Chairman Dean Draper, who believes these gains will help offset anticipated job losses when the nearby Intermountain Power Plant switches from burning coal to natural gas in 2025.

Still, Draper is concerned about housing when Crystal Peak hires 275 workers to build the project.

The bulk of the lease covers federal land, but about 5% is on Utah state trust lands and an additional 4,000 federal acres are needed for utility rights of way.

Mansanti called the project a “paradox” because it is in Utah’s West Desert, known in some quarters as “the middle of nowhere,” yet major utility and rail lines run near it.

“Because of the corridors that go to California and elsewhere, we’ve got good rail access, good power access, good vehicle access,” he said. “So it’s actually a good place for locating a project.”

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