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Selkirk Mountain Real Estate

Smelter, Smelter, Smelter by Jim Boyer

Examples of broken promises, unenforced permit conditions and mismanagement or accident frequency at other plants are anecdotal and will not likely influence the process here.

Smelter, Smelter, Smelter
Photo: United Silicon Plant. Credit: Lowana Veal | IDN-INPS

Smelter, Smelter, Smelter

Note: In reference to the proposed Hi-Test Silicon smelter in Newport, WA, I have followed the arguments brought forth by watching local blogs and social network debates. This is not meant as advocacy for either side. It is an effort to share points learned over a lifetime in development, corporate facility management and land use process in pursuit of the best outcome. – Jim Boyer

Editorial by Jim Boyer

According to Sun Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’, the first principle of winning any battle is knowing the enemy and knowing yourself.


Generalizing an argument to the point of making unfounded statements about the process or making accusations about people who can be valuable assets is a self defeating effort. People are more effective when they stay focused on a point they understand or care about and make persuasive arguments with facts. A person educated in a specific area such as air quality would be an asset by sticking to that subject and letting others focus on what they know.

Someone simply saying they don’t like the idea, or don’t want the plant does nothing to influence the legal process. There are regulations in place governing industrial development and that is where the process must be influenced by using legal restrictions or scientifically backed objections.


Does a silicone smelter operation produce pollutants harmful to the health of nearby residents? If so, facts that prove causation and subsequent harm will force continued examination of the proposed process. Such facts need to be compared to the facilities, conditions and locations that produced the original statistics. How do statistics gained from a different plant in a different jurisdiction such as Mississippi or Iceland relate the proposed plant and how are they the same? Can they be extrapolated to give an accurate picture of what might be expected here?

Can processes potentially contributing to pollution or air contamination be mitigated internally? If it is proven that it can be, how could this be regulated and reinforced?

In existing smelter operations is there a proven high rate of chronic illness in the employee population? If so how does the facility where that documentation was recorded relate to the proposed facility? If there is a proven health risk in employment, how does that extend to nearby residents? Is this an opportunity to show that the dangers to residents out weigh the benefits of jobs and taxes?

Remember: examples of broken promises, unenforced permit conditions and mismanagement or accident frequency at other plants are anecdotal and will not likely influence the process here.

How will truck and train traffic impact surrounding neighborhoods? How many trips will result when the operation is at full production? With what frequency will large trucks use neighborhood streets for access? Will weight and size be an issue on proposed routes?

What if the demand for product increases in the future and the plant wishes to expand to increase production? Can restrictions against that event be imposed now?

Will production bi-products require special handling and disposal? If so, how and where?

What about noise levels at all times of day and night?


In negotiations it is necessary to have a fall back position:

Are there no positive benefits to explore and weigh, or dispute? Benefits such as jobs, revenues to city and state and potential social improvements should not be absent from the conversation. They will not be ignored by Hi-Test, so understanding how to debate the positives by proving the weight of the negatives is a must. Again, arguing that a plant somewhere else promised a park and didn’t come through is meaningless to this discussion.

The permitting process is based on facts and it takes facts to present a good argument. Negotiations take a conscious effort based on goal assessment. Skilled negotiators know to begin with a higher demand than may be realized. They are willing to accept compromises in order to get what they want and they know it is necessary to want it, but not to want it that bad. In other words they are always ready to walk away from the table and seek another opportunity.

While walking away may not be an acceptable move for CANSS, it could be that Hi-Test would be ready to do so as a last resort. They’ve done it before. But they will not likely be swayed by pure emotion. A well researched opposition presented in an understandable way can do a lot to leverage the final decision. Arguments must be reasoned and sincere, presented without anger. Hysteria and hyperbole are contagious. Both often lead to violence which inevitably erodes public support and ends in defeat.

Remember: “Every fighter has a plan until they get hit.”

Short of total defeat, there should always be a plan for give and take. A sensible fall back strategy may include forcing conditions or restrictions on the pending permit. This can be done legally using state and county laws and statutes. An example would be a business development having to provide road improvements, stop signals and wide turn outs in order to build a project. What about demanding time restrictions on operating hours. If operations were restricted to 7AM – 7 PM would that be unacceptable to the plant? What about restricting truck traffic to daylight hours?

Can well thought out arguments produce enough conditions to be applied to the permit that owners may decide going through with the project is too costly and burdensome? On the other hand; if every condition and restriction added to the permit were met, could the end result be a neutral impact, or even a benefit to the community? Would that be acceptable?

Remember; “know your enemy”. Understand who you are up against. It may not just be Hi-Test. In any negotiation you must be prepared to find a position from which to seek the best possible outcome if total victory is not at hand.

It is often productive to think up “what if” scenarios and compare local negatives and concerns with completely different examples. For instance, what if the proposed plant was a coffee roasting company or chocolate factory? Would the air not be a concern, but the traffic still be as important? Could mitigations be found because of the differing aspects of the business?

What about the physical appearance of the plant itself? Can it be placed within the 200 acre site so as not to negatively impact the surrounding neighbors? Will it be brightly lit during the night?

If all other questions are answered and concerns are mitigated, can the plant be built so as not to offend the horizon? Is there a necessary height that determines functionality of the stack? Would a demand for a reduced stack elevation be worth fighting? If a stack has to be a certain height in order to function properly, is it possible to demand moving the foot print or grading the site so as to lower the profile of the structure?

Lastly: planning and preparation meetings should be structured and organized. Committees or teams should be built to focus on different disciplines such as: air quality, traffic, waste containment and disposal, water and environment and even fund raising. Their meetings should be separate and controlled. Each one should have a team leader and spokesperson. Planning and prep is a place to work, not to complain and present emotional arguments.

Within a predetermined time frame an executive summary argument should be ready to present. The steering committee can assemble these committee reports into a well organized presentation.


If an attorney is leading the negotiating process the money adds up fast. A well researched presentation divided in to distinct chapters will aid his arguments, cut his research time and save a lot of money.

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*edited 12.22.17, to correct “prep is a place to work”