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College Lobbies for CIB Funds to Subsidize Energy Training Facility

Sun Advocate reporter

The College of Eastern Utah indicated recently that it is seeking financial assistance in acquiring land and buildings currently owned by Plateau Mining Corporation.

The college appeared before the Utah Permanent Community Impact Board at its last meeting to determine whether the panel would be receptive to a proposal from the college to receive funding for the purchase of the property.

CEU president Ryan Thomas joined by Steve Burge and Dennis Dooley in presenting the college's need for funding to the CIB.

Burge was acting as an instructor at the college in his proposal and Dooley represented the CEU board of trustees.

College representatives explained that the college has been working for the past year on creating a division of the college that would focus on education in the energy related industries.

Plateau Mining has offered the college a parcel measuring more than 300 acres to the college.

The land is located at the site of the Willow Creek mine and includes three buildings that may be usable for instruction and hands-on training in the energy industry.

"We are anxious to provide an energy center," pointed out Thomas. He told the CIB that at least two mines are planned to open in the near future.

Thomas said that he had spoken with various entities in the energy industry and that there is some interest in the field for a facility of this nature to be available in the western United States.

Dooley pointed out that only one other facility of this kind exists in the U.S. That facility is in Texas.

Similar facilities are also located in Canada and Germany.

Thomas explained that the facility will be quite unlike any other program the college currently offers.

"Our capacity to meet the needs of the industry will not come from traditional semester-based programs," the president explained.

The curriculum offered at the facility will be industry driven, indicated Dooley.

CIB chairperson Gordon Walker asked how this facility would relate to a similar facility that is planned at the Uintah Basin Applied Technology College. Walker asked whether the facility planend by the college would compete directly with the the UBATC.

Thomas explained that he envisions a facility that would complement the training offered in Roosevelt. He pointed out that the ATC focuses on gas drilling, while CEU is looking more at surface and underground mining.

Carbon County Commissioner Mike Milovich, who sits on the CIB, gave his opinion that there are certain obstacles that may severely limit the college's plans to move forward with its plans. However, he also explained that the existing facilities that the are available for purchase are unlike any other training facility. Milovicah also said that if the college succeeds in its efforts, the outcome will be a state-of-the-art facility.

The obstacle the college is facing relates to the time frame in which Plateau Mining wants a definite commitment from the college. The mining company reportedly has offers to purchase the land by at least one buyer.

The mining company has also listed the property on the commercial market for a price tag of $1.1 million, the same price at which the land was offered to the college, but excluded 285 acres from the advertisement. The parcel also includes 40 shares of water and the rights to a small potential gas field. The buildings located on the property are valued at $8.7 million, Burge pointed out. In addition, the property is adjacent to a rail spur that the college could use if the program warrants.

College officials explained that the seller is interested in selling to a public entity, partly because a sale to a public entity would make reclamation efforts simpler.

Burge pointed out to board members that the state building board has toured the property as have members of the board of regents and the college's board of trustees. He said that those entities all support the college's desire to purchase the land. In addition, Burge explained that some state legislators are supportive of the concept as well.

The college explained that with a project of this magnitude, it is looking for outside sources of funding. College officials explained that two donors have already given written commitments toward the funding of the project and a third donor is in negotiations with the college.

In addition, the college has applied for a grant for $2.7 million from the department of labor which is still pending approval. However, with those funds still pending, the college turned to the CIB to seek funding.

The interest expressed by the college sent up red flags for members of the community impact board, who noted that the board has specifically denied previous requests from institutions of higher education. Garfield County Commissioner Maloy Dodds who sits on the board expressed his opinion that the state legislature has long shirked its responsibility in funding higher education. Dodds explained that in his opinion, the type of development that the college is anticipating should come from the state legislature.

"I have a bias against CIB funds going into education," said Maloy.

However, Plateau Mining is looking for a definite response from the college before the end of the calendar year. The legislature doesn't meet until January, and legislative funding would not be available until July 2007, when the state begins another fiscal year.

The college's inquiry to the CIB was whether the board would entertain a proposal by the college for a grant to pay fore the facility. However, noting that the CIB doesn't generally fund education-related projects, Walker asked whether the college would be interested in a loan to pay for the purchase of the facility.

That concept faced immediate obstacles due to the fact the the college cannot incur debt on its own. Debts by the college must pass legislative review, which would push the approval of the funding into at least January.

"If we have enough money to pay back a loan, we don't need a loan," pointed out Thomas. However, the CIB remained firm on the opinion that a grant to the college was out of the question. The board did not act on the matter, as the college had not made any formal proposal or application for funding. Walker said the college was welcome to draft a proposal and present it with an application for funding at the board's next meeting in November.

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