The recent actions by the Grand County Republican Party remind me of their actions several years ago in response to the county council’s vote to protest the appropriation of water from the Green River for the proposed Blue Castle Project nuclear reactor at Green River.
I and others had encouraged the county to protest the withdrawal of 87 million gallons a day to provide water for a two-unit reactor promoted by Blue Castle Holdings. BCH’s predecessor company had leased a total of 53,600 acre-feet of water from the Kane County Water Conservancy District and the San Juan County Water Conservancy District. The districts looked forward to receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars for leasing the water to BCH and millions of dollars once the reactor was built and producing power. The districts submitted applications to the Utah Division of Water Rights to change the point of diversion (from the Colorado and San Juan rivers to the Green), use (from coal-fired power plants to a nuclear reactor), and place of use (four miles east of Green River) of the water.
There were concerns about the impacts to river recreation, threatened and endangered Colorado River basis fish species, and numerous economic, social, environmental and health issues, and the safety of the public in Green River, Grand County and the region. Parts of Grand County would be in the 10-mile Plume Exposure Pathway and 50-mile Ingestion Pathway Emergency Planning Zones. Moab would be used to care for people in case of an emergency evacuation. It made sense for Grand County to weigh in on a proposal that would have significant long-term impacts on the county at the beginning of the process.
The council protested the SJWCD change application. Local individuals, river recreation companies, farmers and organizations also protested the change applications. As it turns out, the executive director of the KCWCD was a well-known and influential Republican Utah State legislator, Mike Noel. Come the next Grand County Council election, the Republican Party made a concerted and successful effort to replace the council chair with a known Republican, who is now part of the group that submitted a recent petition responsive to Utah HB 224.
Previously, I had not felt the specific influence of the Utah Republican Party and Republican money in council non-partisan elections. After that election, I felt that Grand County and the council chair were being punished.
So, what ever happened to the proposed nuclear project that had affected our community? In 2010, various documents were filed and a hearing held in Green River. In 2012, the state engineer approved the change applications. That decision was appealed to the 7th District Court by three environmental organizations: Living Rivers, Uranium Watch and HEAL Utah. One of the plaintiff’s arguments was that BCH had not demonstrated that the project was economically feasible. A weeklong court hearing was held in Price. The district court upheld the state engineer’s approval, and that decision was upheld by the appeals court in 2016. The plaintiffs did not appeal to the Utah Supreme Court, so the decision became final. At that point, BCH was supposed to start annual lease payments: $100,000 to KCWCD and $80,000 to SJWCD.
Not only did BCH fail to make those payments, they did not even notify the districts that they would not be making the payments. At this time, there is no evidence that BCH has made any lease payments, which now include late fees and interest, nor have they re-negotiated the leases. As of October 2018, BCH owes the districts a total of $580,200. Thus far, the districts have not taken legal action. Both districts relied on the BCH leases in support of their recent requests to extend the 50-year period to show proof of beneficial use of the subject water rights. The state engineer, in part, relied on the leases and approved the extensions of time for an additional 10 years.
In a related application process, BCH had stated that they would be submitting an Early Site Permit Application (ESPA) to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to license the site for the planned reactor project. Emergency planning meetings were held in Green River, which were attended by state and local taxpayer-funded governments and agencies. BCH said that they would pay for emergency planning, but there was no mechanism for state and local agencies and governments to be reimbursed for travel and time. So, public money was spent in support of BCP emergency planning as an unapproved public gift to BCH. The BCP has not moved forward. There have been no emergency planning meetings or meetings with the NRC for over six years. The last time BCH wrote to the NRC regarding the schedule for submittal of ESPA was March 2011, stating that the application would be submitted in the last quarter of 2012.
In sum, the BCP is dead. BCH defaulted on the lease payments and has not given the NRC or the public any indication of when they would submit an ESPA. Yet, the BCP website still promotes the project, with no mention of the default or failure to submit an ESPA. The Utah Republicans who supported the project have not spoken publicly about the situation and admitted that the project is dead.
Sarah Fields is program director of Uranium Watch. She moved to San Juan County earlier this year, after having lived in Moab for about 20 years. Uranium Watch, which used to have an office on Main Street in Moab, now has an office on Main Street in Monticello. The organization can be reached at P.O. Box 1306, Monticello, Utah 84535, or at 435-260-8384.