Smelter: When did it become OK…?

By Phyllis J. Kardos
Reader Contributor

When did it become OK for a massive industrial complex to entrench itself in the middle of rural residential properties and position itself to be built perilously close to incorporated and unincorporated towns, homes, schools, a hospital, recreational areas, water sources without one opportunity for the citizens to say, “No! Not in my neighborhood!”

It seems it became OK when Gov. Jay Inslee endorsed a “project of statewide significance” for Pend Oreille County, which the county commissioners applauded and supported.

It became OK when State Sen. Shelly Short, R-Abby, introduced and passed special legislation for silicon smelters and utilities that sold them power.

It became OK when the Washington Department of Commerce provided HiTest Sands, Inc., a Canadian company, with a $300,000 grant to engineer the project.

It became OK when Pend Oreille County Public Utility District sold public land to HiTest for $300,000 – designated forest land it bought in 1996 for $500,000.

And, it became OK when the county commissioners sold a piece of public land to the public utilities district so access could be gained into the PUD parcels.

Why has HiTest, a foreign entity of questionable origin, acquired more special privileges and legal rights than area citizens?

Giving the thumbs up to HiTest Silicon Metal Processing Facility, with its imminent threat and harm to human life and the environment, a number of questions needed to be asked by all stakeholders, especially the area residents. What will it accomplish? Why? Where? When? How? For whom? What are the risks? What are the costs? Who will pay those costs and how? In this conversation, some questions must have higher priority: for example, available potable water and sewage disposal. How in the world can HiTest, county commissioners and PUD even remotely entertain the idea of building a toxic emissions facility within a few hundred yards of the city of Newport’s Water Recharge Zone, the city’s new well and reservoir system and position itself over the top of the Little Spokane River aquifer? These are fair questions HiTest needs to answer now before the permitting process.

Which brings up another question. Why wasn’t the local population given a special place at the table when the discussion with HiTest started? Who else is more concerned about their own future and that of their children? Who can better consider goals transcending immediate economic interests? Why were the citizens not given the same consideration and privileges as HiTest in this process?

How did this situation happen, and why am I and my neighbors engaged in a life-and-death struggle to protect our homes, families and a rural way of life that embraces a clean and healthy environment?

Did it happen because our public servants got overly frenzied about “new” money coming into our county to help with infrastructure and create jobs? Were they not thinking of the consequences of a silicon smelter and what the people might think or want?

Did it happen because our public servants thought it would be easier to let HiTest do the thinking and planning with respect to economic development and jobs?

Did it happen because we gave up our voice and diversity of thought when we quit running for state and local offices and volunteering on councils and commissions?

And, finally, did it happen because HiTest Sands, with no plan and no forethought, saw a multi-million-dollar opportunity in Newport and convinced officials and the public utility district that it was the best jobs deal around? HiTest came for cheap land, cheap power and cheap labor, and it was indulged with virtually no questions asked.

So where do we, the people, who oppose this industry go from here? This smelter has been legitimized through legislation and given special privileges and considerations by government officials. Now the people have to work to delegitimize it through our voices, the State Environmental Policy Act), the county conditional use permit processes and the courts.

I believe honesty and truth are needed right now in this political and emotional discourse. We should not be limited to the issue of whether or not this massive industrial project is permitted by law, but whether the project improves the lives, health and well-being of the people and the environment in which we live.  I see absolutely no scientific or physical evidence this smelter can do that. In fact, if this Canadian facility is allowed, our American rural lifestyle will be swallowed up by unrealistic corporate greed and urbanization.  Is this truly what we want?

Phyllis is a 56-year resident of Pend Oreille County and is currently working with Citizens Against Newport Silicon Smelter and Newport group “Responsible Growth.”

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