The city of Bluffdale, Utah, gave the National Security Agency a sweetheart deal on water.
According to a Nov. 28 story in the Salt Lake Tribune, the town extended the NSA discounted rates below its own guidelines and the average in Utah to secure a contract with the spy agency. Bluffdale also issued a $3.5 million bond to pay for new water lines and infrastructure to supply the sprawling data center.
The NSA is expected to use an estimated 1.7 million gallons of water per day to cool its spy computers.
Bluffdale officials say the water deal was all in the name of economic development, and the new infrastructure will open the door to growth in the area around the spy center.
“It got us a ton of infrastructure, water infrastructure, in places we wouldn’t have it,” Bluffdale City Manager Mark Reid told the Salt Lake Tribune.
Tenth Amendment Center national communications director Mike Maharrey said he understands the desire to spur economic development, but not at any cost.
“Claiming economic development doesn’t automatically justify every action,” he said. “How would people react if it was 1943 and the city was supplying water to an internment camp caging Japanese-Americans? It’s really the same thing. The NSA is blatantly violating basic rights protected by the Constitution. The city is selling out its own citizens, the people of Utah and all of America for a few economic development dollars. It’s pretty disgusting when you think about it.”
The paper obtained three years worth of emails provided by the city through an open records request. The NSA heavily redacted the correspondence, but reporters managed to piece together the deal Bluffdale offered to secure the water contract. The city typically sells water on a three tiered pricing system, with rates rising as consumption levels increase. Instead of charging the NSA at the top rate, Bluffdale offered a contract guaranteeing a rate in the second tier no matter how much water the agency consumes. Instead of paying $3.25 per 1,000 gallons for amounts over 100,000 gallons, the NSA pays $1.95 per gallon regardless of its usage. The agency must also pay a 10 cent per 1,000 gallon surcharge for customers at an elevation of over 4,500 feet, raising its rate to $2.05 per 1,000 gallons.
The Salt Lake Tribune reports, “According to a 2011 survey by the Utah Division of Drinking Water, the average rate for culinary water is $2.09 per 1,000 gallons.”
The deal also requires the NSA pay a monthly maintenance fee and guarantees a minimum payment each month. Bluffdale officials say the deal insures the city can cover its new bond debt.
The OffNow coalition has developed model legislation that could force the Bluffdale to shut off the flow of water to the NSA data center, and prevent other state and city governments from offering the spy agency similar sweetheart deals.
The Salt Lake Tribune incorrectly reported a perceived error in the OffNow.org messaging, saying, “most of the literature the coalition has published incorrectly refers to the state supplying water to the Utah Data Center.”
But, in fact, the coalition correctly asserts that “the state of Utah” supplies the water.
“Bluffdale is a political subdivision of the state of Utah,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said. “In other words, it exists as part of the state government and is not independent. So, anything Bluffdale does ultimately is the responsibility of the state government – it has the final responsibility according to the state constitution.”
According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Bluffdale and the NSA signed the 10-year contract on Sept. 30, 2011. Reid appears to believe this contract is the end of the story, implying that he wouldn’t turn the water off to the NSA Data Center without starving out local residents as well.
“We can turn [the Utah Data Center] water off,” Reid said, “as long as we turn everyone else in Bluffdale’s water off.”
About the contract with the NSA, Boldin added:
“Contracts to engage in illegal activity are not valid contracts. They aren’t upheld in court. Anyone making a blanket claim that NSA is acting legally is just plain nuts. So the Utah legislature can do something about the water in Bluffdale”
Boldin also pointed out the Utah state constitution specifies that a local government can operate public utilities “local in extent and use” – “subject to restrictions imposed by general law for the protection of other communities.”
“Passage of the 4th Amendment Protection Act in Utah would ban all political subdivisions from providing material support to NSA’s mass surveillance program. As per the state constitution, this would qualify as a “general law” to act as a “protection of other communities” regarding the use of public utilities by a local government,” he said. “Then we’ll see how it plays out with the force of the state law versus the contract signed by Bluffdale under the assumption that the NSA would be acting legally. Because that’s the assumption of any legal contract in the first place. The NSA is not acting legally.”
To get involved in stopping unconstitutional NSA spying, visit OffNow.org.