Local officials show support for proposed nuke plant

Kemmerer City Administrator Brian Muir speaks at the Uinta County Economic Development Commision meeting last month about the possibility of housing a nuclear reactor in Kemmerer, an idea local officials expressed support for. (HERALD PHOTO/Aidan McGuire)

EVANSTON — The two main topics of discussion at the recent meeting of the Uinta County Economic Development Commission were an update from Kemmerer City Administrator Brian Muir on the city’s economic development plans and a presentation by Western Wyoming Community College’s (WWCC) Director of Outreach and Workforce Development Kasey Damori.

“We have joined forces with Diamondville to encourage and promote the entire area of south Lincoln County to promote retention and economic development,” Muir said. “We did a study to bring small nuclear reactors here and, thankfully, Rocky Mountain Power is responding to that. Rocco O’Neill wrote a letter giving support, along with other letters of support we received from different entities. We think we have a good chance of getting the reactor in Kemmerer. We would appreciate any kind of support we can get from your group, as well.”

Kemmerer is one of three cities in Wyoming competing for the first Natrium small modular nuclear reactor (SMR). A trained workforce is critical to the placement of the reactor and Kemmerer has that, Muir said. He also said the housing market in Kemmerer is picking up and a new development is being built on the southwest side of the city. Muir said he was assured by the local joint powers board that they have the sewer and water capacity needed for new developments.

“We are also pursuing carbon capture for the plant, and Gov. Gordon is behind the concept.  There is a $750,000 grant being given to the University of Wyoming to study carbon capture and UW and another university are working together on the study,” Muir said.

Commission members said they are in support of the proposed nuclear plant in Kemmerer and Gary Welling would be asked to write a letter of support from UCEDC.

Next to speak was Damori with WWCC. Damori is a Rock Springs native who received her master’s degree in instructional technology in 2015 and is pursuing her PhD in higher education administration from the University of Wyoming. She has worked for WWCC for 10 years. Damori provided information on the college’s new strategic plan developed after Dr. Kimberly Dale became the college president.

“I want to focus on our relationship with outreach,” she said. “I work closely with … [officials] here at BOCES and would like to work closely with high schools in the future to develop CTE, career readiness programs and more. We created the strategic plan on four basic concepts. We really want to work on community development and economic diversity.”

The goals of the strategic plan are to work with industry development  professionals with the Southwest Wyoming Manufacturing Partnership; economic development committees; local enterprise councils; and with the Wyoming Innovation Network. Damori said they are also working with Gov. Gordon’s office on ways to distribute the federal recovery money.

Ron Wild from Rocky Mountain Power had provided the commission with a newsletter from the Southwest Wyoming Manufacturing Partnership (SWMP), which is a team of business and industry leaders who are dedicated to promoting southwest Wyoming manufacturing and technology.

Since WWCC had to cut 12% of its workforce last year, officials are focused on operating efficiently and continue to create new programs such as a new fiber optic certificate program and an entrepreneurship program to create new businesses.

“We have identified Evanston as an opportunity site for growth and expansion,” Damori said. “We are planning to enhance our CDL program to meet the needs of stakeholders in the service area and are working with partners that are driven by the NextGen program.”

Through community engagement, Damori said, WWCC is expanding dual and current enrollment and exploring micro-credentials such as a business credential and a welding credential. She said WWCC wants to custom-build programs to meet workforce needs and is also expanding early childhood education, Head Start certification and technology expansion.

In response to questions and suggestions regarding tech or trade skill training programs, Damori said the issue is lack of space, and they have put in a request for a building in Evanston specifically for that on the “extremely wanted list.” 

Uinta County School District No. 1 Assistant Superintendent Doug Rigby said 76 high school students received industry recognized certificates in 2021 and the district is working on developing an employability skills course.

During the target market study reports, chair Dan Wheeler reported that the lodging tax revenue in the last four months had increased by 10% and there is a 15% increase from the year 2020 to 2021.

“The lodging tax board does very well on marketing Evanston,” Wheeler said.

Commissioner Brent Hatch said that the number of auto titles and registrations had increased from 872 in May to in the 900s in June so may demonstrate that people are once again purchasing cars, RVs and other types of vehicles.

Rocco O’Neill said the group’s website had over 1,500 visitors in June and many of the visits are from the west coast and last from four to five minutes. The website now lists job postings in Uinta County. He said he is following up on one lead from May and plans to do a presentation on the website at the commission meeting in July.

Herald Intern Aidan McGuire contributed to this report.

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