By Zach Hagadone
If it seems like there hasn’t been much news coming out of the proposed silicon smelter in Newport, Wash., it’s because the project made a fairly quiet exit from the small community on the Washington side of the Pend Oreille River in 2021 and, as The Spokesman-Review reported March 19, is currently being built in the tiny town of Tiptonville, Tenn.
Officials in Tiptonville, including Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, welcomed the company behind the smelter — Canadian firm Sinova Global, formerly HiTest Sand and later PacWest Silicon — with a groundbreaking ceremony in the community of 2,400 in October 2022.
“We are pleased to have received all the permits required to commence construction and to partner with TVA [Tennessee Valley Authority] who, along with the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, are helping to build a world-class operation,” stated Sinova CEO Jayson Tymko in a news release at the time.
“To have reached this exciting point in our development is the result of considerable effort by many people for which, on behalf of Sinova, I thank everyone,” he added. “There is more work to be done before we meet here in the future when our operation commences — but I speak for all of us when I say it feels great to be building.”
The $150 million facility will employ 140 workers on a 350-acre industrial park with access to an inland port of the Mississippi River.
That’s what could have come to rural Pend Oreille County, if not for widespread local opposition coupled with slow-moving and complex zoning and permitting issues. Then-PacWest in late 2019 told Washington Gov. Jay Inslee in an update that the project was “on hold,” citing the failure to secure a meeting with the Kalispel Tribe, along with “bad faith actions” by the Pend Oreille Utility District related to costs to supply power to the proposed facility.
Meanwhile, county commissioners had denied a sweeping rezone of the property purchased by the company, and the county Planning Commission hadn’t been able to address the issue amid a long-running and sometimes contentious effort to update the Pend Oreille County Comprehensive Plan, which was recently completed, according to the Spokesman.
All that left the company “sitting on the sidelines,” Tymko wrote in the correspondence with Inslee, as it awaited a range of decisions from local officials — even as residents from Newport to Sandpoint and beyond continued their vocal opposition to the project based on fears of emissions affecting regional communities.
Even as far back as the summer of 2019, Tymko told the Reader in an interview that the company was “in a holding pattern” related to zoning, and had already been put two years behind schedule because of “yet another delay tactic” — in that case, the appeal of a land sale.
“We have never experienced anything like this in any of the countless number of communities we have successfully done business in,” Tymko wrote to Inslee later that year.
Fast forward to December 2021, when Sinova Global officials first joined with Tennessee Gov. Lee to announce that the company would relocate to its current site in the state.
“[D]ays like this are why we ran for governor — to bring economic opportunities to parts of the state that needed them like the economically distressed counties,” Lee said, according to a report from the Jackson Sun, which covers west Tennessee.
The Spokesman reported March 20 that Tymko in an interview said Pend Oreille County’s comp plan process and wrangling over utilities were critical to moving on from the Inland Northwest.
“[Local opposition] was no hindrance,” Tymko told the Spokesman. “We are always concerned about what people say about us but the group had no effect on us, no effect on the state.”
Construction of the Sinova plant is expected to take two years to complete.
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