Officials talk wind project, blockchain, work at fairgrounds

Evanston Cowboy Days Chair Dustin Matthews and Lyle Johnson, who was appointed to a committee to help with improvements at the Uinta County Fairgrounds, listen in during discussion at the Uinta County Economic Development Commission meeting on Wednesday, May 22. Both Matthews and Johnson are concerned about the safety of the bleachers at the fairgrounds, though it would cost an estimated $1.5 million to replace them. (HERALD PHOTO/Kayne Pyatt)

EVANSTON — The Uinta County Economic Development Commission held a two-hour meeting on Wednesday, May 22, which included assignments resulting from the Thomas P. Miller & Associates market study report and three guest presentations.

Chair Brent Hatch introduced Tansy Shelton, a new commission member from Lyman, then moved to the Miller report assignments.

Those assignments are as follows: Owen Peterson and Alma Harmon will study the benefits of the Miller report and bring back their findings to the commission; Dan Wheeler is assigned the task of contacting the companies that the study selected; Tib Ottley will compile a list of all available commercial properties in Uinta County and the progress on cleaning up the old Evanston town hall; Brian Stokes will investigate what the state allows for billboard signage outside Evanston; Mark McGurn was assigned the task of compiling a list of trailer park spaces available; Gary Welling will investigate the possibilities for using the suggested brand and logo; and Brent Hatch will attend a June 12 meeting of the Salt Lake City Economic Development Commission, and will help all the other commission members to gather their information.  Hatch asked that retrieved information on assignments be brought to the next meeting.

Wheeler said he will volunteer to attend business conferences in Utah as well.

The first presentation under new business was Enyo-Energy Wind Farm. Representatives from the company, Christine Mikell and Greg Probst, provided information on their extensive experience in the wind energy industry.   

They spoke about a wind project they are planning four miles west of Evanston, near Wasatch Road, which includes site control of 5,900 acres in Utah, ending at the Anschutz line.  

“We are here to give you information on a project we are in the beginning stages of and to get your feedback,” Mikell said. 

She said they have already met with the Uinta County Commission and Planning and Zoning.  She said they have done an impact study but have not contacted the BLM yet. They plan to conduct an open house in Evanston and invite all those in Utah and Wyoming who might be affected. The building site is in Summit County, Utah, so they do not have to go through the Wyoming Industrial Siting Commission.

“We only actually use 40 acres out of the 5,000-plus,” Probst said. “This is an energy-only project with 100 megawatts on the Utah side. There is a golden eagle nesting area that we will stand back from, and according to the impact study, the noise shouldn’t affect any nearby homes. We have the FAA permit for height already completed. When construction is completed, we reclaim the land and return it back to nature, so the long-term impact is minimal.”

Probst said the construction of the wind project will bring in close to 200 workers who will need housing, and Evanston is closer than Coalville. The roads will be worked on in late 2020 and will require approximately 30 workers. Mikell said construction will begin in 2021, with a peak of 200 workers in May and June of 2021, with completion in September 2021. Upon completion there will be six to nine permanent operations and maintenance employees.

“We do not want to create a severe impact so that is why we are here. This is a small project. We hope to sell the energy to Google or Facebook or Rocky Mountain Power,” Mikell said.

“There are other target utility groups and ultimately with a secured customer this project will be successful,” Probst said. “There is a continual load growth in the Salt Lake valley. We are partners with a very substantial company that has marketed energy to many entities. On our end, we develop the projects and make sure they are successful in the local communities.”

He said that as the demand for wind energy grows, there may be a time in the future when the company will develop wind turbines on Wyoming land near the current project. He said they have already talked with the Wyoming landowner, who is positive toward future growth onto his property.  

Because the Miller study recommended that Uinta County investigate bringing blockchain technology to the area, Heath Beaudry from U.S. Bank was next on the agenda to provide a presentation on the technology.  

First, he gave a description of Bit Coin, explaining that it is a peer-to-peer electronic cash system; digital money that uses proof of work (POW) and uses an expensive computer calculation called mining blocks and the “miners” (circuits) compete with computer power to solve problems. Blockchain is the technology and Bit Coin is the currency aspect, Beaudry said.

“What is blockchain?” Beaudry asked.  “It is a distributed ledger; it is decentralized, transparent and immutable. It cannot be hacked.”

Beaudry said the Wyoming legislature is on the cutting edge of blockchain technology. He said Wyoming already has a blockchain beef company and is beginning a sheep one as well. 

Sen. Wendy Schuler said the legislature has a blockchain task force working on the technology’s benefits. She said the FBI also told the Wyoming Legislature that blockchain is not hackable. 

Beaudry gave an example of someone purchasing a product with Bit Coin. The transaction would be put into a block and the peer chain would receive it, validate the transaction, the block would be added to the chain, locked in and the transaction would be as if money were paid for the product.

Wheeler asked, “What should be our course of action regarding blockchain for Uinta County?”

Beaudry responded, “Educate the public, communicate with and reach out to the blockchain commission and ask what Uinta County can do.”

Last on the agenda was Evanston Cowboy Days Chair Dustin Matthews, who gave a report on the new gates at the Uinta County Fairgrounds. He said the new gates are being installed and they look good. Matthews thanked the county commissioners for their help during the process.

“I am here because I think our fairgrounds are in trouble,” Matthews said. “I want to remind everyone that we need new bleachers. The old ones are in a dangerous condition and need to be replaced. What if something bad happens before the summer ends? The estimated cost for standard new bleachers is $1.5 million. What can we do about the bleachers?”

Lyle Johnson, who is on the fairgrounds committee appointed by the county commissioners, said there are some grants available, but they have very limited amounts. 

“We need stadium-type bleachers. Could the Economic Development Commission apply for those grants as you are a nonprofit with 501(c)3 status?” Johnson asked.

Matthews brought up the $2.5 million that is listed on the county website for fairgrounds improvement and asked why that couldn’t be used.

Uinta County Commissioner Craig Welling said that money was originally set aside to purchase new property and couldn’t be used for bleachers. He added that there is money in the Abandoned Mines Fund and perhaps the county could pursue a grant from them.

Schuler said a one-penny sales tax could be an answer and if implemented throughout the county would raise $60 million annually. 

Much discussion followed among attendees regarding the need for a stadium that would bring long-term benefits to the county by hosting large events. One attendee suggested that the county needs a joint powers board to coordinate fundraising projects.

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