By Mayor Shelby Rognstad
Many concerned citizens have contacted me recently regarding the proposed silicon smelter in Newport, Wash. As reported in the Reader on October 12, 192 acres was purchased by Canadian firm, HiTest Sand near the Old Town/Newport state line for the purpose of developing a metallurgical silicon smelter.
The project is in the preliminary stage of development. Next Monday, HiTest meets with DEQ (ID), Department of Ecology (WA), EPA, Kalispel Tribe and National Park Service to discuss modeling for air quality impact. Modeling framework must be approved by the Washington Department of Ecology, through the Spokane office, before an air quality permit application could be accepted. The application, through the Affected States Rule, triggers notification to neighboring state authorities within 50 miles which includes Idaho DEQ. The public comment period would then follow. The proposed smelter would also require a discharge permit as it would impact Pend O’Reille River downstream.
The proposed site is roughly a mile south of the U.S. 2-Idaho state Route 41 junction. As reported in the Spokane Journal of Business, the $300 million project is projected to bring 170 jobs to a county with 6.4 percent unemployment rate. The silica, mined near Golden, B.C., would be shipped to the smelter. The Washington Department of Commerce, who supplied a $300,000 development assistance grant for the project in 2016, has said the smelter will have a net environmental benefit in that solar cells manufactured in Washington will result in a net reduction of carbon. Solar power industry suppliers, such as Moses Lake-based REC Silicon, currently obtain silicon refined in eastern U.S. or overseas.
The Kalispel Tribe of Indians is seeking a federal air quality designation for its Usk-based reservation that potentially could tighten current emission limits. Even if the tribe’s request for a higher air-quality classification is approved, preliminary air quality modeling that HiTest is conducting indicates the facility would be compliant with heightened federal and state standards, according to Pend Oreille County Commissioner Mike Manus.
The environmental impacts to Sandpoint and Bonner County from a smelter 30 miles upstream would be significant. Air dispersion patterns will bring “emissions of carbon, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, fugitive gasses and silica dust as well as acid rain and diversions” according to Pend Oreille Health Blog (http://pendoreillehealth.blogspot.com/2017/10/silicon-smelter-project-in-newport.html). The smelter requires large amounts of power to fuel its sub-arc furnace process, allegedly fueled by coal from Kentucky and wood chips to augment the draw from hydroelectric power. Water levels on Lake Pend Oreille and the river may be impacted as well as water quality through discharge.
I will encourage Sandpoint City Council to pass a resolution urging the DOE to reject permitting the plant, or at the very least, ensure that it meets the highest emissions standards possible. The proposed site would impact air quality for Sandpoint and the region, effecting health, economy and property values. I encourage all of you to provide comment on the proposal when the public comment period opens. You can receive regular updates on development of the project by subscribing to this list serve: email@example.com