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State engineer stands by decision in N-water use

Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The state engineer is standing by his decision to grant applications to Blue Castle Holdings to use 53,600 acre-feet of water to operate a proposed two-unit nuclear power plant in Emery County.

HEAL Utah, Uranium Watch and other groups had contested the late January decision by State Engineer Kent Jones, arguing numerous factors were not properly considered, including the financial viability of the proposal submitted by Blue Castle President and CEO Aaron Tilton, a former state lawmaker.

The Green River water rights are owned by Kane County and San Juan County water conservancy districts, but would be leased to Blue Castle Holdings for the power plant.

According to the state Department of Natural Resources, the requests for Jones to reconsider his decision said he failed to consider Tilton's "financial ability" to complete the project.

Jones disagreed, responding that Tilton's proposal demonstrated an appropriate level of financial ability given the stage of the project, which would ultimately put the water to beneficial use.

John Mann, assistant state engineer, said the contesting parties may seek judicial review of Jones' decision in district court.

The multiple groups that had challenged Jones' decision on Tuesday blasted his unwillingness to budge and said it was further demonstration of Gov. Gary Herbert's pursuit of flawed energy policies.

“We’re appalled that the state engineer has so brazenly ignored law and precedent in his willingness to advance Governor Herbert’s dirty and dangerous energy agenda,” said Matt Pacenza, HEAL Utah's policy director.

Pacenza pointed out the objections raised to Tilton's proposal came from two dozen individuals and groups and that Jones' rejection of those complaints ignored concerns over other impacts, such as sufficient water availability in low-flow conditions and if the awarding of the leased-water will interfere with other users' rights.

"Bizarrely, Jones didn’t even address any of those issues in his one-page dismissal of the twin appeals," Pacenza said. "He focused only on defending his decision about the project’s finances, in the wake of growing questions about Blue Castle."