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College's president dispels rumors of Western Energy Training Center demise

Ryan Thomas

A rumor was circulating last week claiming that the College of Eastern Utah would be closing down the Western Energy Training Center after the first of the year.

But when CEU President Ryan Thomas was asked about the situation, he indicated that the rumor was off base.

Thomas indicated that the rumor had apparently been founded on actions the college must take based on a federal grant CEU had received for the initial startup of the training center.

"What we were doing is not a conclusion of the operation of WETC, but just a reality we needed to face about federal grants and the way they are funded," explained the CEU president during a telephone interview last Friday afternoon. "The grant gave us great startup funding for the center, but it was supposed to run out the end of this month"

Later Friday afternoon, the college received word that permission to extend the grant money had been approved, so the point of preparing to layoff some employees by conducting exit interviews became a moot point.

WETC was started up about two years ago with federal and some private money as a center for training energy workers and management.

During the last several years, WETC has evolved with training programs and starting up an experimental operation with a coal coking facility on the grounds.

"We had to look at this under the parameters of the grant," said Thomas. "Many of the employees have accrued vacation and they would have needed to use that before the grant was up so we could pay them for it."

"We also needed to sort out which folks that work there would have been laid off should the grant have not been renewed. We were also looking to switch some of them over to other funding to keep them working as well," continued the college president.

On Monday morning, Kevin Walthers, vice president of finance for CEU, indicated that the grant extension letter had gone in on Nov. 1. He had expected the approval earlier, but was satisfied that it finally came through.

"I was pretty much assured that it would be approved so I wasn't too worried," said the CEU vice president for finances. "But it did take them longer to approve it than I thought. Nonetheless, there will not be any layoffs at WETC at the end of the month because of lack of funds."

Walthers released an email from Felecia Aycock Blair, the federal project officer for the United States Department of Labor, which administrates the money.

Blair stated in the email that the "request looks good" and that she did not "anticipate any problems with the approval" of the request.

According to Thomas' statements last Friday, the money for the extension was not a new application for funds. The application was for the use of money that was in the current grant and was still available.

The current grant extension will give WETC money to operate at least through June of 2008.

Some of the speculation on the demise of the center came partly because of some departures from the staff of WETC in the last couple of weeks. Sam Quigley, who had been involved with the creation and operation of the center left to go to work for a private employer in the county two weeks ago, and there had been rumors of other departures as well.

Thomas said on Friday that there are also other potential funding sources partly based on the work of the Utah Mine Safety Commission set up last fall by Gov. Jon Huntsman in reaction to the Crandall Canyon disaster.

"In fact, we just received another grant for about $300,000 recently," stated Thomas. "The fact is WETC will continue to operate."

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