A heated topic regarding water created an hour’s worth of public comment at last week’s White Pine County Commission meeting.
Three agenda items regarding a proposed hydropower facility drew quite a bit off attention.
The company called White Pine Waterpower LLC from Idaho, is seeking to lease water rights fromWhitePineCounty. The commission has had the company on its agenda several times before, with an interest in economic development in White Pine.
Several who commented on the topic last Wednesday were members for the Water Advisory Board for the county who stated they were never notified, or sought for their input in the matter.
Bill Wilson, on Zoom, commented that he had questions related to the water for White Pine Waterpower, one in particular of the effect on the Nevada Northern Railway that would reportedly have to relocate a portion of the tracks and right of way.
Cody Odgers, a member of the county’s water advisory board, stated he believed White Pine County Commission Vice Chairman Travis Godon had a conflict of interest in the matter, due to his family owning property in the area for the proposed project. The meeting had to be recessed while James Beecher, White Pine County’s new District Attorney, discussed the matter with Godon.
After several minutes the meeting was reconvened, and Beecher stated that Godon could vote, since his family did not have any financial benefit where their property was located.
Godon said, “Mr. Beecher explained to me the 150 acres on the other side of the highway of this, Highway 93, somewhat across from the substation to my knowledge there will be no financial increase to my family’s property, they have no water rights on that property, there is no financial interest with White Pine Waterpower, so therefore those are my disclosures and I will be voting based on the advice from legal counsel.”
Odgers who owns a farm in the Steptoe Valley, expressed many concerns, many involving the amount of water needed for the project, the long range effect it would cause on other residents, and the economic impact on ranches and farmers in the county.
Bill Butts, former member of the water advisory board spoke suggesting the commission complete a water study before moving forward.
“I am against it,” he said. “We all think that there is a lot of water, 3-4,000 gallons a minute, and you start pulling the water out, there is no way of knowing how much it takes. I measured my well Monday, I’m down four feet. You should stop this and get a hydrologist, and figure out what the hell you have first.”
Mike Coster spoke during public comment opposing below market value sale on any count asset. “I want to mention the loss of 4,800 acre feet of the mine is coming, and this project will be drawing 5,000 acre feet of water,” he said. “The project made it known that they will be seeking tax abatement, a project that could be very attractive, electrical power to be used outside the county. The county should not be selling its assets.”
The county owns water permits 72728 and 72729, from which the company is looking to lease 8,688 acre feet annually to support the short-term water needs of the project with pumpage fees never to exceed $25,816 per year.
The company has been before the White Pine County Commission several times, where they have sought interest in the White Pine County area as early as 2020 to propose a closed-loop pumped storage hydropower facility that would be located approximately 7 miles northeast of Ely.
The project would occupy about 916.33 acres of BLM land, a reported $1.6 billion investment, with a target online date of 2026. It is reported that this project would commence in 2024-25, and require thousands of people to complete. Thereafter, the project would require 20-26 employees to operate the facility with a 100-year life cycle.
Donna Bath said, “I am here as a private citizen, I have expressed many times that I am not in support of this project, and I am going to disclose that we have property in the Duck Creek Basin. “I have a water concern, in the difference of the information we are receiving. I would agree with Mr. Alworth that we need to stop and take a breath and have a community meeting if needed. The water is important to me in the community as a whole. I’m receiving conflicting information, every time I come to a meeting, I heard 225 employees, I would just like to know what it is that we are expecting out of this project and definitely if the economic benefits do outweigh the negative than I would be in 100 percent support of it, but right now I can’t .”
White Pine County Commissioner Richard Howe said, “Water is an issue that’s been going on here forever, and it is very delicate … as a commission, we have to look to the future and what is the best for our community.
“I think instead of listening to all the negatives, which we heard a lot of that today, but we need to look at the best interest of White Pine County. Energy is the way of the future, the mine is not going to be there forever, I’m not in a position to lose this county.”
The majority of the commissioners agreed that a public meeting should be held, and it was approved and voted 4-1, with Godon opposed.
The county commission will hold a public meeting on the matter of the fair market value of county owned water rights during a special meeting scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 23 at 1 p.m. in the White Pine County Library Conference room located at 950 Compton St.
The Water Advisory Commitee is holding a special meeting today at 5pm, at the White Pine County Library Conference room, at 5pm, to address the county-owned water rights, permits, 72728 and 72729.
At the end of the meeting, Godon said he will resign from the water board at the next commission meeting, citing irrational behavior by members of the water board.
“I never got a phone call from any of the advisory board members about this, I really truly don’t see the point of being their liaison if, A, I’m going to be treated like this, and B, there is no outreach, and I can’t try to address any of these con- cerns and they’d rather try and act like a mob. I’m happy to switch with whoever that is,“ Godon said.