Judge Harmond Upholds State Water Engineer Ruling

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Last Friday, in Seventh District Court, Judge George Harmond upheld a decision by the Utah State Water Engineer that grants water rights to Blue Castle Holdings for its proposed nuclear power plant near Green River.

The decision stems from a lawsuit heard in September when approximately 14 environmental groups, Green River residents and others challenged the transfer of water rights from San Juan and Kane counties to Blue Castle Holdings. The water rights were acquired in the 60’s for a proposed coal-fired power plant that was never built.

If the nuclear power plant is built, it will use about 53,000 acre feet of Green River water a year to cool its reactor.

The plaintiffs contend that flows in the Colorado River Basin are diminishing, and water rights should not be tied up on projects that may never be built. They also raised questions about the effect of the proposed power plant on the Green River and fish in the river.

In his ruling Judge Harmond said the plaintiffs failed to prove their case and there was no lawful reason to deny the water use. The water rights transfer was approved by the Utah State Engineer after a two year process.

HEAL Utah’s policy director Matt Pacenza, said that they are disappointed in the ruling. “I thought we had presented a lot of good critical information that would give the judge a reason to rule in our favor,” he explained. “Some of it stronger than others.”

He went on to say that he felt that the testimony on day three from Dr. Mark Cooper on the economics of power production, was most hopeful and that he had proven that the project was not economically viable. Pacenza said that unfortunately, Judge Harmond seemed to buy into the skeptical arguments presented by Blue Castle and that he found this disappointing.

Pacenza said that all the plaintiffs will get together to decide if they will continue with any legal action on this ruling, but no matter what, they intend to continue the fight against the proposed nuclear plant.

The reaction from Blue Castle was one of relief. CEO Aaron Tilton, said that they had been confident that the state engineer had been thorough during the two year process and they expected the ruling to go their way. They are now moving ahead with preparing for an early site permit.

“If all goes well, it will be 2017 when we secure the early site permits and the construction operation license,”  Tilton said. “With this ruling, we are the only new nuclear site with regulatory approved water rights and that should significantly help with our ongoing negotiations with utility companies and financial backing.”

The project will still undergo scrutiny from federal agencies, including the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, The Environmental Protection Agency and the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

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