On Friday, September 7, 2018, a group of concerned citizens attended the Elmore County Commissioners weekly meeting to hear our local government officials deliberate on two separate Cat Creek Energy project issues. This is what happened at the meeting.
Deliberation #1 – A Loss for the Residents of Elmore County
The first deliberations of the day dealt with a July 26, 2018 rehearing regarding 20 different amendment issues the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) approved in previous meetings during the past few years. The BOCC was concerned that the residents were not fully aware of some of the amendments and we, the people were owed an additional hearing.
After Chairmen Wes Wootan dispensed with some routine rules and guidelines for the deliberations, he and Commissioner Corbus ruled rather quickly that the county did everything properly with regards to those 20 amendment items. Earlier this year the third official, Commissioner Hofer recused himself from any decision-making responsibilities regarding the Cat Creek Energy project because he was engaged in the negotiation process with John Faulkner’s Cat Creek Energy, LLC legal team.
This Cat Creek Energy project is quite complex and even Chairmen Wootan required some help and guidance closing out the deliberations and announcing an official decision on the rehearing. Both Bud Grant, the county’s legal counsel and Shelley Essl, the assistant clerk of the county commissioners, spoke up to ensure Wootan didn’t overstep on this important announcement.
While we are disappointed in the BOCC’s decision in this matter, there are still some hurdles that Cat Creek Energy, LLC will have to overcome before they can break ground on this project.
Notice: For your records, the official BOCC agenda item for this meeting was titled “Deliberation of Cat Creek Energy Rehearing held on July 26, 2018.”
Deliberation #2 – A ‘Big Win’ for the Residents of Elmore County
The second and final deliberations scheduled for the day involved an amendment to a development agreement between the county and Cat Creek Energy. The initial public hearing on this matter was conducted on Aug. 24, 2018, and mainly dealt with the water storage and delivery from a new 100,000 acre-foot reservoir that John Faulkner wants to build on the bluff directly above Anderson Ranch Reservoir. Specifically, 723 feet above Anderson.
Cat Creek Energy has been using this proposed new Cat Creek Reservoir as a big “carrot on a stick” and holding it in front of the county commissioner’s eyes since November 2016. It certainly appeared to many local residents that Cat Creek Energy was not so subtly trying to grease the skids in an effort to ensure the BOCC would approve their entire mega-energy project.
It is also the opinion of many residents that during the hearings in late 2016, Cat Creek did intimate that they would provide the county with a whole lot of water from Anderson Ranch Reservoir and get it into the Mountain Home area at no cost.
The commissioner’s deliberations on this issue were more meaty and substantial than during Deliberation #1. It became clear from the very beginning that Commissioner Wootan was in favor of approving Cat Creek Energy’s proposed amendment to the development agreement.
When Commissioner Bud Corbus offered up his opinion, it was obvious he was frustrated and maybe a little hot under the collar. That frustration was directed at the seven members of the Cat Creek Energy team in attendance at this meeting.
During the deliberations, Commissioner Corbus sternly lectured the Cat Creek Energy team over the following issues:
1. Corbus said he doesn’t think Elmore County should be put in a position of taking a risk on the costs of the water delivery from the proposed Cat Creek Reservoir.
“In 2016 Cat Creek Energy said they were taking on all financial risks for the project and they were not asking Elmore County to take any risk. Corbus said ‘that has changed now’.
2. Corbus said he was having a lot of trouble believing the Nov. 2016 Cat Creek Energy’s promise that they would do anything they could to help Elmore County when in fact Cat Creek Energy stood in the county’s way when they protested Elmore County’s water application.
During a Nov. 2016 meeting, a Cat Creek Energy spokesman said “if there was anything they could do to help the county in the future we want to.” Corbus retorted, “I’m looking at a protested Elmore County water application and I’m asking myself how Cat Creek Energy is helping us by protesting that water permit.”
3. Corbus appeared a little hot under the collar when remembering that Cat Creek Energy told the county that if they sign the agreement, Cat Creek Energy wouldn’t protest the county water rights application.
“To me that’s similar to blackmail. You sign this (agreement) and we won’t protest the water,” Corbus said.
“Who in the hell is going to be telling us “you do this or else.” That’s not right. That’s not fair. That’s just absolutely not right”.”
4. Corbus said that a poster/flier created by Cat Creek Energy stated that transferring the water from The South Fork of the Boise River to the Mountain Home area wouldn’t be an issue but now there are issues … many issues.
And then there is a poster from those hearings. It says transferring the water from Cat Creek Reservoir to Little Camas and the to the Mountain Home area is not an issue. It doesn’t say on the poster anywhere that Elmore County is going to have to pay for it.
5. Corbus the went back to the fact that Cat Creek Energy official protested Elmore County’s water permit with the Idaho Department of Water Resources.
I read this Notice of Protest signed by John Faulkner and I read the reason why, and I was extremely disheartened. Again, who in the hell could be telling us [what to do] … who should deny the citizens of Elmore County water. I don’t think that’s right. I don’t think that’s fair and I really struggle with that.
In the end, Wootan restated his support for approving the first amendment to the development agreement. If the commissioners agreed to that amendment, the total cost of pumping water from the South Fork of the Boise River to the Mountain Home area would remain unknown and could easily skyrocket. Commissioner Corbus stated definitively he could not support the proposed amended.
The Development Agreement Amendment was not approved by Elmore County. That’s a win for the residents of the county.
In short, the vote was a one-one tie, meaning the proposed amendment was not approved during this September 7 meeting.
Moving Forward With the Development Agreement
It appears as if the signed and approved February 9, 2018 Development Agreement between Cat Creek Energy and Elmore County (download a copy of that development agreement here) … CCE_Development Agreement (9-Feb-2018)-10673026_1. is still in effect. However, the water storage and delivery portion that wasn’t approved during this September 7, 2018 meeting includes a December 31, 2018 deadline. If the county and Cat Creek Energy cannot hammer out an acceptable water storage and delivery agreement by the deadline, the CUP related to water will lapse.
The county has no further requirements or actions to take in regards to the development agreement, according to Elmore County Attorney Buzz Grant. However, we suspect the Cat Creek Energy legal team will be busy in the coming weeks trying to find some common ground with Elmore County surrounding this complex water issue.
Notice: For your records, the official BOCC agenda item for this meeting was titled “Deliberation of Amendment to the Cat Creek Energy Development Agreement.”