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About Elmore County's Comprehensive Plan June 9, 2009

Posted by cleanidahoenergy in AEHI, Agriculture, approval process, economic benefits, Elmore County, nuclear industry, rural nuclear, Snake River Alliance, Solar energy, Wind energy.
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(We submitted this opinion to the Mountain Home News today for publication tomorrow.)

The Elmore County Commission said some surprising things Monday. Since they can’t hear any more testimony, it is likely my words won’t make it to them. But it would be helpful, whether or not this project succeeds, to clarify a few things.

The Commissioners correctly pointed out on several occasions the comprehensive plan appears to conflict with itself. That is to be expected in a complex effort like land use planning, but it doesn’t have to be that way. As I will talk about, our rezone proposal actually does conform to the comprehensive plan because our development would provide steady, well-paying jobs; will greatly improve the local tax base; won’t threaten the rural way of life so important to Elmore County residents; and we have addressed concerns about possible future misuse of the land.

The Commission asked their attorney for an opinion as to whether or not they can restrict future uses of the land. The Commissioners are concerned that if they rezone the land for industrial use and the nuclear plant isn’t developed, the landowner could apply to build some undesirable use and the commission would have little ability to stop it.

This is a reasonable concern. However, we addressed it early on in the process. Along with our application, we submitted a development agreement. The agreement makes clear that if we do not build a nuclear power plant on the land, then it must revert to agricultural zoning.

Elected officials are understandably reluctant to deviate from their comprehensive plans. However, they also know there will come times to make reasonable exceptions. We believe this is such a time. The current comprehensive plan, however well-intentioned, did not foresee the possibility of an ambitious and economically significant proposal such as ours, the most expensive single piece of private infrastructure ever proposed for Idaho.

The designated industrial location, Simco Road, has very little water; a 20-mile-long pipe would need to be constructed, presenting insurmountable safety and right-of-way concerns. The site has geologic issues that also make it difficult to site a nuclear plant there. Interestingly, much more intrusive uses, such as industrial wind farms and natural gas plants, may be located anywhere in the county without a heavy industrial designation. This is especially puzzling, as a nuclear plant emits no smoke, noise, dust or odors and takes up very little space.

Another commissioner said the people of Hammett have spoken overwhelmingly against the rezone. While many Hammett-area farmers spoke as individuals (and included their feelings again as members of a group), that is by no means representative of Hammett the town, where many of the workers on these farms actually live.

Of the 1,600 signatures we gathered in favor of the rezone (half from Elmore County), we estimate at least 50 came from in and around Hammett, where our community organizing efforts found people, many of them agricultural workers, desperate for stable, well-paying jobs. These figures suggest national polls about nuclear power, which routinely show 70%-plus support.

One of the commissioners’ least enviable jobs is to balance competing interests, each of them important. Should they (as our opponents say) approve an industry that would destroy the rural way of life? Or should they adopt a clean, stable source of energy and the jobs that go with it? Unfortunately, our opponents have presented this as an either-or choice when, in fact, it is not. In terms of being an industrial use, we will no more impose upon Elmore County’s rural way of life than a cheese plant or an air force base (which we whole heartedly support as a veteran run organization).

If the farmers could demonstrate the plant we propose would harm their way of life, they might have a case for keeping hundreds of their fellow county residents from holding power plant jobs. As it stands, however, nuclear plants are excellent neighbors. Of the 1,300 acres proposed in our rezone, about 200 would be for the actual plant. The remaining land would consist of ponds and farms, as is common in the predominantly rural settings where nuclear plants are located. According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, it costs 1.8 cents to produce a kilowatt-hour of electricity with nuclear power, and that power is produced more than 90 percent of the time (http://tinyurl.com/2pgc8k). That’s a significant benefit to farmers

Indeed, Elmore County farms have for decades abutted extremely intensive heavy-industrial uses with no problems. I’m speaking of Mountain Home Air Force Base, Despite the general mistrust of government in our society, the Air Force Base has been a good neighbor and is a pillar of the region’s economy. Safe to say, MHAFB would have a hard time fitting in the Simco Road location.

One commissioner also expressed concern about how construction would affect local services. Any sort of significant project will certainly impose some burdens and we have suggested ways to address them. Ideas include paying money directly to the county to reduce the bill for all taxpayers as compensation for disruption; job training; a community center; scholarships; direct infrastructure funding; and a committee to oversee service needs (for details, see my open letter to the people of Hammett on my blog at www.cleanidahoenergy.wordpress.com). Not to mention, these burdens would pale in comparison to the benefits specified in the next paragraph.

Current farms in Elmore County produce 2.86 jobs (some seasonal) per acre, or about 4 jobs at the current location. Our plant would produce 500-year round jobs at the site and 5,000 peak jobs per year during construction; $558 million in local payroll and labor income; and $205 million in local ripple payroll income. The plant would also create an additional 1,754 full-time support jobs and massive improvements in schools, police, fire and other infrastructure funding.

The irony isn’t lost on me that the commission these days is also holding meetings on how to deal with a pressing budget crisis. Our proposal would start putting people to work immediately and increase the economic security for the all residents of Elmore County.

One of the Commissioners made another important statement. If Elmore County residents – and presumably the Snake River Alliance – wish to see farmland kept undeveloped, they should probably consider forming a land trust or other legal vehicle to accomplish it. To restrict private property rights for that reason is not a wise use of power.

Things are going well for AEHI. Last week, we signed an agreement with Source Capital Group Inc. to raise money for the project. The funds will cover land, water rights and engineering services to obtain Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval to construct and operate an advanced nuclear plant in Elmore County, Idaho, estimated to total some $70 million. Every company that has undertaken the NRC application process has successfully completed it and received a construction/operation license.

We see a bright future for Elmore County, one that many communities in America share. It is a future of economic security and low-cost energy, with a nuclear plant quietly, cleanly and dependably powering its farms, homes and businesses. We hope the Elmore County Commission votes for this future and approves our rezone.

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