PRICE — Testimony began Monday in a Price courtroom during a week-long trial challenging the state's decision on the water that will be used in a proposed nuclear power plant in Utah.
The lawsuit, filed in 2012, was brought by multiple groups hoping to kill plans for a proposed twin-reactor nuclear power plant in Emery County.
HEAL Utah and others want 7th District Judge George Harmond to rule illegal the Utah state engineer's decision granting 53,600 acre-feet of water to the project.
Aaron Tilton's Blue Castle Holdings is proposing to take the water from the Green River for use in the cooling process at the proposed plant, which would be located near the city of Green River in Emery County and generate 3,000 megawatts of electricity.
The groups challenging Tilton's acquisition of the water assert that state engineer Kent Jones should have done much more in reviewing the water rights applications, including a demonstration that the water for the project won't interfere with other water rights or harm the fragile Green River ecosystem.
Tilton, a former state lawmaker from Utah County who is president and CEO of the company, has said he believes Jones' decision will have no problem prevailing in district court.
"We are very confident it will be upheld. The state engineer obviously denied the protestants on the same basis of what issues they are raising now," Tilton said. "Water law is very settled, very predictable, and certainly the two years the state engineer spent looking at our change application and the use of the water at the plant was fairly lengthy, in depth and very detailed."
The water in question is already owned but unused by a pair of water conservancy districts and would be leased under long-term contracts that would generate a financial windfall to the rural areas of Kane and San Juan counties.
Matt Pacenza, HEAL's policy director, said the legal battle is pivotal because it represents a chance for Utahns to weigh in on with their opposition to the proposal.
"The trial in Price is likely the final opportunity for a Utah official to have a say in whether the Green River nuclear project goes forward" he said.
He added if the Jones' decision is allowed to stand, Blue Castle Holdings will be able to apply to the federal U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission for a permit.
HEAL Utah and Uranium Watch are joined by 16 other plaintiffs, including the Utah Rivers Council, Living Rivers and the Center for Water Advocacy. Others include businesses that depend on the Green River such as Moki Mac River Expeditions and Holiday River Expeditions, and several residents from Green River, Moab and Salt Lake City.
On Monday, testimony was to include Tilton and Jerry Olds, the former state engineer who has been hired as a consultant on the nuclear power plant project.