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Nevada Northern Railroad and National Parks Service Stand Against the White Pine Pumped Storage Project

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The White Pine Pumped Storage Project, a topic of debate for White Pine County for some time, has had new developments. White Pine County residents, who have long pushed back intensely against the Project, have had their resistance bear fruit. Currently, the staunchest official defense against the Project comes from the National Park Service representation for White Pine County and the Nevada Northern Railway.

The White Pine Pumped Storage Project proposed by rHydro would build a dual water reservoir energy generator eight miles north of Ely. The upper reservoir would be located in Duck Creek Range, with the lower reservoir in Steptoe Valley.

It would produce vast amounts of power by draining the upper reservoir with underground tunnels leading into the lower, generating electricity with turbines. The equipment and energy generated by the initial drain will pump the water back up to repeat the process as often as needed to supply power—each cycle generating power for eight hours.

The main concerns for the Project are not about innovative technology or even the system's efficiency. Instead, the issue is with how the introduction of the Project into the community will impact the way of life for White Pine residents.

The Project's energy would not be used for White Pine County but rather to connect to the State of Nevada's entire regional energy network system. This alone does little to convince White Pine residents that we need such a large-scale project located in our region, highly recognized for its natural beauty and recreation opportunities.

A secondary concern is that the Project would severely impact water in the county, which is a sore spot for the County as Clark County has attempted to gain access to White Pine County's water in the past. With this concern voiced early and often by the community, the Project did conduct studies to relay the specifics about water usage related to the Project.

Reports from rHydro indicate that project construction and initial fill will use less than half a year's worth of county water supply, spread out over the construction period of five years. Or three percent of the allotted water rights for economic development. Much less than what traditional power sources consume to operate.

Still, many are concerned that this kind of water rights acquisition can only lead to an erosion of the autonomy and way of life for ranchers, farmers, and those who would like to own water rights in the area for similar pursuits. Or potentially, in the long run, lead to the subsidization that takes away from White Pine County's available water rights in ways that residents and experts can't perceive at the moment.

Recent developments have resulted in a letter from the National Park Service representation here in White Pine County to the Department of the Interior head in D.C., asking for a conclusion to a dispute resolution based on ongoing communication between the Park Service and Northern Nevada Railway and White Pine Power LLC, (a local LLC created to represent the Pumped Storage Project initiative).

The letter provides a detailed overview of the specific concerns that the Park Service and the Railway have with the Project, the timeline of communications regarding these concerns, and what was done to resolve these concerns.

For example, the National Park Service, as part of the licensing requirements, requested that specific studies be done that would accurately forecast the aesthetic impact on the area, the aesthetic effect on the area explicitly concerning the Railways Train operations, and economic studies showing the impact on White Pine County's economic wellbeing as a whole. Keeping in mind that much of White Pine County's financial success depends on tourism, with a large portion of that coming from visitors to the Railway, which then stimulates almost all business activity in White Pine County.

Currently, although White Pine Power LLC has cooperated in providing some of these studies, the National Park Service and the Nevada Northern Railway have launched this dispute because although White Pine Powr LLC submitted the aesthetics study, it was partial and left out key points of observation that would impact train ride visitors experience.

For example, there were submissions of visual impact studies that included train ride views; however, they were only from points of observation ranging from one to three miles away from the actual Project location, while the train on both tracks runs through the middle of and directly adjacent to the Project. In addition, there were no submissions depicting what this would look like from the visitors' perspective on the train and how it would impact overall experiences.

In addition, the socio-economic study, meant to disseminate the visitor experience data and the economic impact this would have county-wide if the Project impacts Nothern Nevada Railway revenue, was simply not submitted.

It seems that the Pumped Storage Project will stand still until White Pine Power can satisfactorily provide these studies. However, suppose they do provide these studies. In that case, decision-making on whether or not the Project will continue will depend entirely on what the data from these studies look like.

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