SALT LAKE CITY — A hard-fought legal battle to halt the use of Green River water for a planned nuclear power plant in eastern Utah is over, with a trio of environmental organizations announcing Wednesday they are dropping their court challenge.
HEAL Utah, Uranium Watch and Living Rivers, however, insist the project is struggling on multiple fronts and not likely ever to become a realty given the challenges it faces.
"Blue Castle (the company behind the project) may be winning in the courts, but they're losing everywhere else," said HEAL's executive director Matt Pacenza. "We don't think they have the resources to move forward."
Pacenza, in a press conference detailing their decision, said by ending the legal challenge over the water rights at issue in the case, Blue Castle will have to begin making payments to a pair of water districts on the 53,000 acre-feet of water they are leasing.
"By dropping the appeal we are actually forcing them to put up or shut up as they sometimes say," Pacenza said. "We don't think they can."
Aaron Tilton, a former Utah County Republican lawmaker, is pursuing the development of a 3,000 megawatt twin reactor power plant in Emery County outside the town of Green River.
Tilton, who is president and CEO of Blue Castle Holdings, was able to secure the water necessary for the plant through a pair of contracts with the Kane County and San Juan County water conservancy districts. The water was acquired by the districts some years ago for different purposes, but has not been put to use.
State Engineer Kent Jones granted a change application for the Blue Castle project, which was challenged by the environmental groups in a case that went to trial in 2013.
A district judge ruled that Jones acted within the constraints of the law by granting the change applications, a decision upheld last month by the Utah Court of Appeals.
The groups contend the project has failed to attract the needed investors, secure power purchase agreements that guarantee customers for the nuclear power and is stalled in the federal licensing process.
Tilton has said project detractors are wrongly focused on the duration of the federal licensing process when other work has to be completed first.
In July, the company hosted an invitation-only webinar for companies interested in an $8 billion construction joint venture on the project, with an estimated start date in 2020.