On Friday, the bench trial over Blue Castle Projects water rights concluded with closing arguments from both sides. In question, was the decision from Utah State Engineer Kent Jones to allow water rights to be moved from Kane County to Blue Castle for the construction of a nuclear power plant on the Green River near the town of Green River.
The case was assigned to Seventh District Court Judge George Harmond who presided over the weeklong trial. Judge Harmond will sift through the mountains of evidence presented by both sides and is expected to deliver a ruling within 60 days.
The trial began on Sept. 23 in Castle Dale, but parties on both sides agreed to moving the trial to Price mitigating travel issues. Julie Valdes from the Utah Attorney General’s Office, said that the case was a de novo ruling which in essence is a trial that was going to rehear the information that the state engineer ruled on for the water right change and adjudicate the matter. Valdes represented Jones as legal counsel.
Attorney David C. Wright, was the lead counsel for Blue Castle. Wright called several witnesses including Blue Castle President and CEO Aaron Tilton and Nils Diaz to the stand. Diaz has an extensive resume in the nuclear industry, including tenure with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC).
In a brief interview during the trial, Titlon said that this was a big distraction, but part of the process. “When looking back this will be a good thing because we will have undergone all the scrutiny,” Titlon stated. “I am happy we have these rights, but they come with a cost and its not always about money.”
Diaz, who owns an eight percent stake in the company, also stated that 17 million dollars and six years have been invested in the project. He believes strongly this can be done right.
The large sum of money was one of the things that John Flitton, lawyer for the twenty plaintiffs, was concerned about. Flitton questioned the fact that it amounted to approximately one percent of the estimated 17 billion dollars it would take to get the plant on line.
Flitton also secured Arnold Gunderson to take the stand. Gunderson is an expert witness in the nuclear energy field and an industry watchdog. He stated that based on the water withdrawal rate, a 3,000 megawatt plant could not be put on the proposed site.
Mark Cooper, an economic analyst for the Institute for Energy and the Environment at Vermont Law School testified that the cost of the power produced based on current information would be 14 cents a kilowatt hour. Most power currently produced is selling at eight to ten cents a kilowatt hour. Utah Power and Light has expressed no interest in buying the power produced by the proposed nuclear plant.
Testimony on both sides centered on whether or not there are sufficient water flows in the Green River to support the nuclear plant. Evidence about drift, blow out residue and surrounding land and water contamination also took up a great deal of time and was equally disputed.
In closing, attorney Wright stated that they had met the burden to show it is “feasible” or “can be done.” He said that Blue Castle did not need to have all 17 billion dollars lined up or have their plant fully designed and shovel ready. “It is okay to phase in the project and deal with issues at each stage of the process,” Wright added.