HiTest Smelter – More Questions than Answers
by Shari Dovale
Pend Orielle County, Washington sits on the border of North Idaho, with Bonner and Boundary counties lining the Idaho side.
In September, Canadian-based HiTest Sand Inc. purchased 186 acres of land south of Newport along this border for a proposed Silicon smelter. The proposed smelter is attempting to make it through the permitting process to be placed next to the state line, just south of Newport, next to Oldtown, Idaho in Bonner County.
I am told that HiTest first looked at the USK area to build their smelter. However, Usk is no longer under consideration.
It seems that the good people in Addy, Washington, in nearby Stevens County, are ready to bring in the smelter. They want it. They need it. But Addy does not have as low electricity rates as has Newport. So, Addy is not under consideration. And it is all about the power.
HiTest likes Newport. The little town of Newport has the second lowest utility rates in the country. Wow! That is a big selling point, at least it is for the company. However, the smelter will use a massive amount of power. This is great until the utility company has to start buying from other sources to supply the residents. Could that happen here?
The Pend Oreille Public Utility District said there should be no change coming to the county residents’ power. However, a notice in the local paper announced a public hearing for the consideration of the electric system rate and fee adjustments on Dec, 5, at 10am. If you would like to attend, it will be held at the Newport Admin office, 130 N. Washington Ave.
HiTest claims they will bring about 150 jobs to the area. Well, maybe not only for locals, as they will be bringing in the higher-level folks from other areas. But, these workers will still add to our economy. Boosting the economy is always a good thing. And some of the jobs will be for anyone that wants to travel to the factory, including locals.
The Pend Orielle County Commissioners seem to be all in favor, for the reasons I just outlined, as well as financial considerations. The state has offered grants as well as tax breaks to bring this smelter in. The state has already invested $300,000, which is just about the price of the 186-acres purchased recently.
The Bonner County Commissioners, though claiming they have no seat at the table, still seem to think it is a good thing. Still, I do wonder why a Bonner County Commissioner was asked to be on the executive committee for the project, if they have no say in this deal?
Despite all this good news, there is a massive opposition building with the citizens of both counties. They are not happy. Why is that?
First, it is proposed to be placed on the state line next to, and seemingly to be included in, a neighborhood. I have to admit, all the positives would be outweighed for me if this factory were placed in (literally) my backyard. I think these residents have a very valid complaint on this point.
And, of course, this is a Silicon smelter. There are credible concerns about silica. Crystalline silica, a form that includes quartz, can be toxic if inhaled.
Why is Silica Hazardous? The dust created by cutting, grinding, drilling or otherwise disturbing these materials can contain crystalline silica particles. These dust particles are very small. You cannot see them. This respirable silica dust causes lung disease and lung cancer. It only takes a very small amount of airborne silica dust to create a health hazard.
OSHA tells us:
Workers who inhale these very small crystalline silica particles are at increased risk of developing serious silica-related diseases, including:
- Silicosis, an incurable lung disease that can lead to disability and death;
- Lung cancer;
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); and
- Kidney disease.
The workers are at risk. That’s not good, but we can assume the workers will know what they are getting into, and agreeing to.
How about the residents in the nearby areas, that were not consulted?
With an expected output of 320,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually, the smelter would be Washington’s 15th-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.
The Kalispel Tribe is concerned about other pollutants. A report from the company’s consultant said the stack will emit nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide – components in smog and acid rain.
Aside from the carbon dioxide emissions, company President Jayson Tymko said, “relatively small” amounts of pollutants will come out of the smelter stack. That’s not a characterization the Kalispel Tribe agrees with.
“We are very concerned about the potential green washing of a significant polluter,” said Deane Osterman, the Kalispel Tribe’s executive director for natural resources.
The smelter’s projected emissions of smog- and acid-rain-causing pollutants are six to 18 times greater than the threshold requiring permits for new polluters in Class 1 airsheds, the consultant’s report said. Besides the Kalispel Tribe, a dozen Class 1 airsheds lie within a 185-mile radius of the smelter, including Glacier National Park and the Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Area, the report said.
Tymko, HiTest’s president, said he’s confident the smelter will be able to meet state and federal air quality standards.
“If this was a business that was highly polluting and damaging to the environment, Washington state is the last place we would look, because Washington has some of the most stringent air quality limits in the U.S.,” Tymko said.
The smelter will use a bag house to scrub soot from its emissions, the consultant’s report said. But capturing the pollutants that cause smog and acid rain isn’t technically feasible and hasn’t been done in the silicon industry, the consultants said.
“Most of the byproducts go up in the stack,” Osterman said.
Go up in the stack? The winds tend to blow from Washington through Idaho and into Montana. This has the potential to affect residents in 3 states. How can these folks be sure what is going to be in the pollution they will be forced to breathe? There are some people that seem to still be dealing with the after-affects from the fires last summer.
Though health concerns are the priority, there are other concerns for the residents, including property values.
It is a bit disconcerting to think that the natural beauty of the inland northwest could be marred by a bit of Detroit-style factories. Pend Oreille County and Bonner County have long promoted their areas for the clean environment, recreational opportunities, and quality of life. I would guess they will have to think about a new tourist promotion after the smelter is built.
Though the Bonner County, Idaho Commissioners continue to claim they do not have a say in the issue, there are some issues they can certainly weigh in on.
They will need Bonner County to sign off on road easements, to begin with. The smelter will be located near the landfill on Highway 41. Access to the site will require use of Idaho roads.
Additionally, it seems that all of the transport will be conducted through Idaho, bypassing Washington altogether. Product will be brought in from Canada by train to Priest River or Laclede, then packed onto trucks for the remaining trip to the state line.
I am sure that Idaho, and Bonner County, should have a say in this.
It does make me question the differences in the two states and their apportioned road taxes. Will this completely bypass Washington highway taxes?
I understand another argument that a Commissioner brought to me. They do not want to get involved with a neighbor state issues, as they do not want Washington to come in and have any control in this county.
That sounds good, until you go back to the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer. This is a joint effort between two neighboring states for the benefit of all residents. It seems to be a pretty good precedent.
We recommend that the residents, and others that are affected, do their own research into this issue. I do not suggest beginning on the company website, as it is severely limited.
However, the HiTest corporation plans to give a public presentation on its project at Newport High School in Newport on Wednesday, Nov. 29 at 6 p.m.
Additionally, there are groups in the area, and on facebook that are willing to share their information with you.
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