Moffat County greenhouse project gets feasibility study grant

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Marilynn Hill

A business project spearheaded by Craig resident Marilynn Hill has taken the first step toward development.

Hill announced March 8 at the Craig City Council meeting that Planet Yampa, an idea for a large-scale, hydroponic food business, has received pending approval for a grant to determine if the project is viable.

Hill is also the Moffat County Tourism Association director, but has worked on her Planet Yampa idea in her spare time for several months, she said.

Hill applied in December 2010 for a $50,000 grant with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct the survey to determine whether the idea — including 12 greenhouses, each measuring the width of four football fields and the length of eight football fields on a total of about 520 acres — would work in Moffat County.

Officials have told Hill to proceed with the next steps of her project as if she had the funding. USDA is waiting for a final budget from Congress to officially award the grant for the study.

“I can’t explain to you how excited I am because what this means is that the USDA and a lot of other people have taken a look at this and said, ‘You know what, this looks like it is pretty viable,’” she said. “This is something that can really help Northwest Colorado and it’s a project we have not had up here that many people have tried at least in the upstart of trying to get something like this started.”

Hill emphasized, however, the feasibility project needs to be accurate and robust to determine whether Moffat County can host such a large, diverse business. The study will also be valuable for its investor potential.

“It can’t be a fluff feasibility study,” she said. “It needs to be a solid look at a the (return on investment), look at all of the business aspects, transportation, manufacturing, land, water, all the different things to make sure that when we make it through that, if the feasibility study comes out positive, it is strong financially to where investors want to put a substantial amount of money into it.”

In addition to growing various foods, Planet Yampa would also ideally be combined as a research facility to study advanced horticulture techniques as well as geothermal, hydro and clean coal energy technologies, she said.

As Hill sees it, the project will be completed in three steps with each phase adding more greenhouses and infrastructure. The total cost of the project is estimated at $140 million, which Hill hopes to have fully funded and built by 2016.

After phase one is complete, Planet Yampa will initially support about 300 jobs and about 700 primary and secondary jobs after it is fully complete, Hill estimates.

A positive feasibility study would help secure investments in the project. Hill said three potential local investors, and one potential large investor have shown interest in the project.

If the feasibility study comes back negative, Hill said, the project would not move forward in Moffat County, but not all would be lost. Information gathered from the study could be applied to other communities and similar projects.

“I always hate to see people thinking about a project in and of itself as a microcosm that this is just only for us,” she said. “Because it is really for everyone.”

Hill, however, is optimistic about the study’s results and project in general.

“I don’t see at this point, barring something that is just completely out of what we have researched so far, that it wouldn’t happen,” she said. “Simply because we have done so much research up to this point and we know there are other (greenhouse) projects that work, there has just never been one of this scale.”

Hill said she would like a majority of the project’s investment to come from Moffat County so control of the project would stay local. After all, she said, Planet Yampa fits with the community’s independent and self-sufficient nature.

“It really does feed on what the people are about here,” she said. “That is taking personal responsibility and making it into something that is their own, that is long-term for their families.”

Moreover, with the number of jobs that could be available pending the results of the feasibility study, Planet Yampa would also be a community-based project, she said.

“It excites me immensely to think about the amount of community involvement not only long-term, but short-term and what it can do for the construction industry … looking at agriculture, looking at new technology (and others),” she said.

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