By Cameron Rasmusson
Two leading organizations in opposition to the proposed Newport smelter are calling for the recusal of a Pend Oreille County commissioner on any decision related to public land use.
Attorneys representing Citizens Against Newport Silicon Smelter and Responsible Growth*NE Washington requested this week that Commissioner Stephen Kiss remove himself from public lands decisions due to alleged conflicts of interest stemming from Kiss’ property ownership.
“Given the benefit Commissioner Kiss would receive from approval of the County’s public land proposal, it is clear that it is both unethical and unlawful for him to take part in any decision-making,” attorneys Rick Eichstaedt, representing Responsible Growth, and Norman Semanko, representing Citizens Against Newport Silicon Smelter, wrote in a letter to Pend Oreille County Commissioners.
The accusations of bias and conflict of interest stem from 53 acres of land near the Mill Pond Flume that Kiss purchased from the Pend Oreille Public Utilities District for $33,000 on Nov. 17, 2016. Activist organizations allege that Kiss is unable to impartially participate in altering or eliminating public-lands policies in the county’s comprehensive plan because the property could potentially benefit directly. Attorneys claim the recusal is especially important given that last month, commissioners proposed “a county-wide redesignation and rezone that would delete the ‘public lands’ zone from the Comprehensive Plan.” In its place would be a proposed designation for public or institutional uses.
The call for recusal ties into activist groups’ argument that land purchased from PUD for the proposed smelter was illegal. They argue that because the land sale didn’t serve the function of generating energy as required by state law, it should be voided.
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