IDL disputes smelter land exchange claim

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SANDPOINT — The Idaho Department of Lands is shooting down claims that it is contemplating a land exchange to facilitate the development of a silicon smelter proposed in Washington state.

The department issued a press release Tuesday disputing claims by smelter opponents that it was considering exchanging state endowment lands to aid in the development of HiTest Sands’ facility.

“The IDL has not received an application for a proposed land exchange or access easement involving HiTest Silicon,” the department said in the news release.

The department did not identify the source of the “inaccurate statements,” although the news release was issued after Citizens Against the Newport Silicon Smelter officials addressed the Idaho Lakes Commission in Priest River on April 6.

Theresa Hiesener told the commission that CANSS’ research indicated that IDL asked to trade land to Pend Oreille County, Wash.

“They actually sent HiTest and Pend Oreille County a dream sheet of property they’d like to trade. Everyone needs to know that all that endowment land off of Highway 41, they’re looking to trade that land,” Hiesener told the commission.

The department said it has no permitting responsibilities related to the smelter proposal, although it does manage a piece of endowment land adjacent to the Washington border and the lands now owned by HiTest to the west.

In the spring of 2017, before HiTest purchased property in Washington, a Pend Oreille County official approached IDL about the endowment lands on the Idaho side of the border and the potential for IDL to divest the property.

“By law, the IDL cannot sell endowment timberland, so IDL staff engaged in preliminary discussions with Pend Oreille County about the potential for another party to enter into a land exchange with the IDL for other lands in Idaho, if certain criteria are met. Discussions ended early last summer, and the IDL has received no applications for a proposed land exchange or access easement,” the department said in the news release.

CANSS sought the support of the lakes commission in opposing the smelter in order to protect water quality. The group argues that ash fallout from the coal-fired plant will disrupt pH balances in the Pend Oreille River and imperil fish and aquatic plants.

“Everything coming out of these 150-foot stacks is coming right down the Pend Oreille Valley,” said Michael Naylor, another CANSS representative. “It’s going to affect Idaho tremendously.”

Commission Chairman Ford Elsaesser said the board was unable to stake a position for or against the proposal.

“As an independent advisory board, we don’t take any particular position or endorse any particular position,” Elsaesser said.

Lakes Commissioner Brent Baker asked why HiTest wasn’t developing its refining facility closer to its raw material source in Golden, British Columbia.

Tax incentives and low-cost industrial power was CANSS reply. They contend the smelter is being sold as job-generator, but is actually meant to fill a void as the Pend Oreille Public Utility District faces the prospect of losing its two largest customers — a mining operation in Metaline Falls and the Ponderay Newsprint Co. in Usk.

“This has never been about jobs. This has been about the public utility district losing its two primary customers,” said Naylor.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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