Today in New West news: conflict between water districts and company pushing nuclear power plant in Utah, President-elect Trump and Montana’s reservations, La Ranchera in Boise, and Colorado IT firm nets $2 million in venture capital.
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Orem-based Blue Castle Holdings Inc., after striking a deal with a pair of Utah water districts (San Juan and Kane counties) in exchange for 53,000 acres of water to cool a nuclear power plant along the Green River, is seeking to renegotiate its financial obligations:
This summer Blue Castle Holdings got what it wanted from the courts: final affirmation that the water-rights transfer, or change application, supporting the project was properly handled by the Utah State Engineer’s Office. That legal closure triggered a contractual deadline to begin making annual payments starting Sept. 19, yet the water districts remain unpaid.
This is because the agreement’s terms no longer make much sense after years of delays and need to be changed to reflect changed market conditions, according to Blue Castle principal Aaron Tilton. The value of the water has soared into the hundreds of millions of dollars since the agreements were signed nine years ago and the company is now trying to secure title to the water rights.
“Now that we have won in the courts, we are modifying the commercial arrangement with the water districts,” Tilton said. “They get greater near-term benefits, and we get increased financial strength through ownership of the water at a certain point in the process.”
He said Blue Castle is making progress on its proposal to build a two-unit, 2,200-megawatt plant on state land near the town of Green River. The firm has an agreement with Westinghouse to purchase the reactors and is preparing to select a contractor, while remaining in steady contact with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the federal agency that holds sole permitting authority over the project.
But the project’s critics suspect Blue Castle’s delayed water-district payments indicates its finances remain too flimsy to sustain the costly efforts to obtain regulatory approval and design a large electrical-generating station. Living Rivers and Uranium Watch, two Utah environmental groups fighting the project, are now citing the missed payments in a new challenge to Kane and San Juan counties’ water rights underlying the nuclear project.
In recent filings with the State Engineer’s Office, they argue that the state should retire the water rights because decades have passed without the counties putting this liquid asset to “beneficial use” as required under Western water doctrines. And there appears to be little evidence Blue Castle will put this water to use anytime soon, according to John Weisheit, the Moab-based conservation director for Living Rivers.
“Blue Castle Holdings has not provided the money for this water so it’s a nebulous water right and should not be renewed,” he said. Nor has the company demonstrated “due diligence” necessary to justify extending the counties’ claim to the water, he said.
Over in Montana, according to the Billings Gazette, the state’s Native American population is grappling with the implications of a Donald Trump presidency—although unlike other minority groups in the U.S., Native Americans have a unique relationship with the federal government, to put it mildly:
As a candidate, Trump almost entirely overlooked Native Americans, which make up 1.7 percent of the total U.S. population and 6.32 percent of Montanans. But Trump has clashed with American Indian groups in the past. The Washington Post reported earlier this year that in the 1990s Trump claimed Indian reservations were controlled by the mafia and said in a radio interview that many who claim to be Indians aren’t.
Trump did not meet with tribal representatives in Billings before his May rally there. Both Democratic primary candidate Bernie Sanders and former President Bill Clinton, who visited Montana on behalf of his wife, met with tribal leadership before their May events in Montana’s largest city.
Many who live on Montana’s seven reservations are unsure of what to expect.
Mark Azure, president of the Fort Belknap Indian Community in north-central Montana, sent a letter to his community after the election saying, in part, “what exactly this means to Indian Country is uncertain at this time.”
Some residents, such as Deanna Bigby, 32, who studies at Aaniih Nakoda College on the Fort Belknap Reservation, are afraid of what his presidency means for healthcare—be it coverage under the Affordable Care Act or the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, permanently re-authorized under the ACA. Others have pointed out that for many Native Americans, there is no reliable “private sector” for them to enter for services. Some are optimistic that President-elect Trump will follow through on his infrastructure proposal, while others are dismayed by his stance on environmental issues.
Over in Idaho, according to the Idaho Statesman, Latin market and restaurant La Ranchera is doing brisk business since opening in June, with owner Fernando Leonhardt, 44, explicitly running against the stereotype that Latin markets are “dirty” and otherwise unpalatable:
Leonhardt opened La Ranchera in June in the busy strip mall anchored by Shopko. It is the second La Ranchera in the Treasure Valley. The other is at 122 Holly St. in Nampa. The stores have nine employees between them.
In addition to traditional food, drinks and confections from Mexico, the store carries products from other Latin American countries, such as the yerba mate popular in Leonhardt’s home country, Argentina.
“The store in Nampa … was working really good, and we thought it’s a good idea to extend to Boise,” Leonhardt said. “We are thinking that there are Mexican people living here” who want another local option for Mexican fare.
The store, financed by Leonhardt and a bank loan, was turning a profit by the fall, he said.
Leonhardt lives in Meridian with his wife, who practiced law in Argentina, and their three children.
Leonhardt moved to Utah from Argentina in 2001. He had finished his university education, studying business, “and the economy in Argentina was really bad,” he said. “I had a friend here who said you can come here … start the process to get a visa.”
About a year after moving to Utah, a friend offered to sell him a Mexican store in Logan.
Leonhardt sold his Utah store late last year and moved to the Treasure Valley in June. He already had opened a La Ranchera in Nampa in 2012 and saw an opportunity to cater to the growing Latin-American community in the Valley.
“The store in Nampa was working better than the store in Utah,” he said.
In addition, Leonhardt has a longstanding tradition of giving away a good-condition used car to a customer at the end of every year; this year, every one of Leonhardt’s stores will give away a car in a raffle.
Finally, over in Colorado, according to the Denver Business Journal, Denver-based Greystone Technology has received $2 million from Cypress Growth Capital, which the company says will go toward “[expanding] into the enterprise market.”