PO County blanket rezone denied

PacWest needs rezone in order to move forward with proposed smelter

By Lyndsie Kiebert
Reader Staff

The Board of County Commissioners in Pend Oreille County, Wash., denied a Comprehensive Plan amendment Dec. 9 that would have expanded uses on parcels zoned as public lands, ultimately spelling trouble for PacWest, the company behind the proposed silicon smelter in Newport.

The proposed change would loosen restrictions on public lands parcels to allow more development.

The amendment to the Comp Plan drew widespread opposition from community members concerned about one chunk of property currently zoned as public land: The property purchased by PacWest intended as the site of a future silicon smelter. 

Audience members applaud anti-smelter comments at a Pend Oreille County Comprehensive Plan amendment hearing in May.
Photo by Lyndsie Kiebert.

Yet, Pend Oreille County commissioners said their decision had nothing to do with the smelter.

“We feel that the public lands designation can be better addressed during our upcoming 2020 Comprehensive Plan update,” Commissioner Steve Kiss told the Reader in an email Dec. 9.

PacWest officials have been on record about the importance of the rezone for the future of the smelter. Though the company did not respond to comment for this story, it backed out of an appearance at a Lakes Commission meeting in March in order to focus exclusively on “internal discussions” after county officials postponed taking up the Comp Plan amendment.

“PacWest can not apply for a Conditional Use Permit for their property until something is done to reform the current county zoning laws,” company representative Mike Welch told the Reader in an email March 26.

It’s the latest development in a saga that has even seen involvement from Washington Governor Jay Inslee, who sent a letter Oct. 30 to PacWest CEO Jayson Tymko asking for an update on the smelter project.

“I take seriously the community opposition to your proposed silicon smelter project in Pend Oreille County, especially concerns raised by the Kalispel Tribe,” Inslee wrote. “As that opposition grows, it appears PacWest is communicating less with the community, tribal and local governments, and state regulators.”

Inslee Communications Director Tara Lee told the Reader on Dec. 10 that the governor has yet to receive a response from the company.

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