Residents urge board to adopt P&Z direction

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NEWPORT — Landowners on both sides of the state line called on Pend Oreille County commissioners on Monday adopt a Planning Commission recommendation not to adopt a comprehensive land use plan amendment they contend is meant facilitate the establishment of a silicon smelter south of town.

Nearly 30 landowners from Pend Oreille, Spokane and Bonner counties filled the commission’s boardroom during a general public comment period at the conclusion of the commission’s business meeting. The meeting followed a March 9 Planning Commission meeting in Cusick in which the panel voted 4-2 not to advance a comp plan amendment to reclassify public lands across Pend Oreille County.

The current Public Lands designation requires those lands to be owned by a public entity, which leaves no mechanism to allow for rezoning after such lands are passed to a private entity and results in heavily restricted land uses. Opponents of the proposed PacWest Silicon facility argue the amendment applies to public lands which the Canadian company purchased to construct the smelter, an allegation county officials have denied.

Landowners appealed to commissioners to adopt the Planning Commission’s recommendation for the sake of regional air and water quality, in addition to public health.

“I chose to live here because of the clean air and clean water,” said Phoenix Luby, who relocated from Spokane County because her daughter could find no relief from an asthma condition.

Gretchen Koenig, meanwhile, urged the commission to keep an open mind.

“Hear more public comments before you make a decision,” said Koenig.

Robert Rumsey, a career boilermaker, said a polluted air inversion would dwell over his home and demonstrated with his size of his fist the amount of sulfur dioxide which can prove lethal.

“You people have no idea what you’re playing with,” he said.

Others maintained that the current comp plan designation already works well and a re-designation would invite additional sales of public lands.

“We have something really precious in this area,” said Elk resident Pat Foster. “Once it gets destroyed, you can’t go back and fix it.”

Commissioners Karen Skoog and Mike Manus took the remarks under advisement.

Skoog urged residents not to conflate the comp plan change with the separate conditional use permit process PacWest will have to go through in order operate in Newport.

“We’re not doing a shortcut,” said Skoog. “It’ll be a process.”

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

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