How would you like a smelter in your backyard (Sandpoint will be downwind)? That is the question that people in the Blanchard/Newport/Priest River area are wrestling with right now. I have been to several meetings and I always come away with more questions than answers. For starters, who wants to look at this monstrosity with two (for now, four when phase 2 is constructed) 15-story-high smoke stacks, topped with blinking lights? And so far, the noise and light pollution possibilities are not being addressed. The aesthetics of this region (scenery and peace and quiet) that drew many of us to this area could be “a thing of the past” if this project goes through.
My main concern right now is that HiTest wants to EXPEDITE the permitting process. I think it would be more transparent if they went through the full Environmental Impact Study process. Governor Inslee has called this a “project of statewide significance” so we ask, who will have the final say, the state or the county?
The company has already purchased 192 acres just 3 miles south of Newport and it appears they want to move this project along as fast as possible. The property is located in a heavily residential area (on the Idaho side) and a moderately occupied residential area (on the Washington side). They are “selling this project” to the public by promising jobs. Of course, there will be some, but the highest paying jobs will be given to engineers and professionals brought in from out of the area. Is it really worth risking the health of our residents, and destroying the aesthetics of our area, to bring in a few jobs?
Property values are likely already being affected by the mere mention of a proposed smelter. And the Little Spokane River watershed is so close that it is hard to imagine it being untouched by this project (and thus the Spokane River and ultimately the Columbia River). So far, there are no firm answers when we ask about what source for water they are planning to use, the river or wells?
The smelter could potentially affect the air of residents in Bonner, Pend Oreille, Spokane and even Kootenai counties. Some residents are really concerned about the effects of silica/silica dust for people who have respiratory issues. They don’t feel they are being given all the facts.
The issues of rail and truck transportation of materials has yet to be defined. If you drive Highway 41 and Highway 2 as much as some of us do, then you know our concerns about the addition of trucks on our two-lane highway, plus the effects school buses and emergency services. Additional rail cars on our already-stressed rail system is worrisome, accident-wise. Plus, we could be spending more time on the road (behind trucks, especially during Spring break-up) and at rail crossings.
We are promised a public meeting in mid-November, but that might be too late if this process is expedited. Who has something to gain from this project? The few who get jobs, the city of Newport (taxes) and the PUD (who will be providing electricity). What do the rest of us have to gain from the smelter? I am trying to figure that out and so far I can’t find anything that will add to the quality of our lives. To the contrary, our health and the health of our children and grandchildren, and the peace and quiet of our beautiful region, could be compromised and that is a compromise I think we should question.