Retired teacher informs herself and community on proposed smelter
For 55 years, Phyllis and Ted Kardos have had a 240-acre farm seven miles outside Newport. Now they have retired there, and most of their six children, 19 grandchildren and 29 great-grandchildren live in the area.
Although pollution from a proposed silicon smelter four miles away might not blow over their farm, the facility would disrupt their rural lives.
So Phyllis joined others in the community and region to challenge it.
She read in the newspaper that a Canadian company, HiTest, now called PacWest, bought three parcels of land—187 acres—up from Highway 41 a mile outside Newport and 14 acres from the Public Utility District (PUD)—to develop the smelter. PacWest first inquired about power in 2015 and was working with state representatives.
After a 2017 county commissioners meeting, she and others began acting.
While silicon is used in solar panels for renewable, clean energy, and Newport needs jobs, smelting would generate 766,131 tons of greenhouse gases, 649 tons of sulfur dioxide and 935 tons of nitrous oxides a year, Phyllis said. In the first phase, there would be two furnaces, a 150-foot stack and an 11-story complex, plus a coal rail spur through forests, agricultural land and open spaces disrupting rural life, she said.
Because Pend Oreille County has a high poverty rate, she wondered if it was a "sacrifice zone." She knows polluting industries often locate near poor or minority communities, assuming there will be little opposition. The Kalispel Tribe, however, forced HiTest to relocate from a first site proposed near their reservation.
In December 2017, she and eight others formed Responsible Growth Northeast Washington (RGNEW), acknowledging the need for jobs, but challenging if smelter jobs were best.
"Beyond stopping the smelter, we seek ways to revitalize Newport," Phyllis said.
Another group, Citizens Against the Newport Silicon Smelter (CANSS) formed in Idaho, because the "air-shed" crosses the border.
Concerned about the airshed and watershed, the Kalispel Tribe continues to challenge having it in the county. They recently opened a casino with an events center, restaurant, fresh food market and gas station, and plan to develop an RV park and cabins to draw tourists, she said.
Phyllis said county commissioners support the smelter for jobs and taxes. She has met with the City of Newport and Washington Senator Patty Murray.
Because of division, she said, most local churches have not taken a stand or held educational events.
Buddhist monks at Sravasti Abby, Carmelite Sisters at the Hermitage and Sr. Pat Millen of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia have written letters opposing the smelter.
As a member of St. Anthony's parish and inspired by Pope Francis' "Laudate Si" encyclical calling people to "be good stewards of the land," Phyllis would like churches to build dialogue and be informed. She has done much research and has given more than 25 presentations in Sandpoint, Metaline Falls, Elk, Blanchard, Newport, Pend Oreille, Spokane and other communities.
Responsible Growth Northeast Washington believes a smelter is contrary to the open spaces, forests and agriculture promoted in the 2005 Pend Oreille County Comprehensive and Growth Management Plan's goal of preventing urban sprawl.
"Economic growth should stay within the plan," said Phyllis. "RGNEW respects those who want 400 construction jobs and 150 long-term jobs, but we are rural, not urban. We need sustainable economic growth that protects the environment and people's health. We can do that through tourism, art, education and training centers. Industry, such as a smelter, would make it hard to build on tourism," she said.
RGNEW's members have researched the proposal and found: Crystalline silica would be trucked from a mine in Golden, B.C. Blue coal (anthracite, said to be cleaner burning) would come by train from Kentucky or South America. Charcoal would be shipped from the South China Sea. Wood chips would be burned in two furnaces at 300,000° Fahrenheit.
While 70 percent of the silicon produced may go into solar panels, she finds nothing green about the process or train and truck traffic bringing raw materials.
"The 150-foot stacks may be regulated, but would disperse pollutants higher and farther. They would emit sulfur dioxide, an ingredient in acid rain. Emissions would include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide and particulate matter, affecting people, fish, wildlife, plants and water," Phyllis said. "After silica is melted, silicon is poured with huge ladles. Fugitive emissions from that will come out the windows."
Roger Castle, a RGNEW member, went to Burnsville, Miss., which has a five-year-old smelter. He took pictures of the fugitive emissions. Workers told him of hard work in a very hot factory, high turnover and burn injuries.
Phyllis said there are eight silicon smelters in the U.S. and one in Canada. Most are east of the Mississippi and on rivers, because they require water.
The Newport site is two miles from schools, a hospital, senior apartments, homes, businesses and recreational facilities. They would be affected by noise and lights from 24/7 production.
The smelter would be on the Little Spokane River, above the City of Newport's underground aquifer and near Lake Pend Oreille and the Pend Oreille River, Phyllis said.
Learning developers plan to cover 150 acres with an impervious concrete pad, she wonders where storm-water runoff will go and how it will affect the city water system and wells. Blue gem coal, silica, wood chips and charcoal would be stored in open pits.
The smelter is still in the proposal stage. It has no permit, construction has not begun, and it's behind schedule, Phyllis said.
The Department of Ecology (DOE) gathered comments in public hearings for an environmental impact report.
There is litigation about the PUD land sale. Three of the four parcels were publicly owned. Pend Oreille District #1 declared them surplus two years ago and sold them to PacWest. For access, Pac West bought a 14-acre parcel owned by Pend Oreille County.
Rick Eichstaedt, director of Gonzaga's School of Law Environmental Law and Land Use Clinic, supervises law students who took up a case to determine if that sale was legal.
In March, Judge Julie McKay agreed the sale was irregular, but said she was not authorized to overturn it. In April, Rick and the students filed an appeal to the Washington Court of Appeals.
Rick said PacWest has not paid the DOE to write the environmental impact statement, nor has it paid the PUD for a design to hook into the electric grid. In addition, the solar panel producer in Moses Lake is closing because of losing its market with China, he said.
Based on the State Environmental Policy Act, he recently requested an environmental analysis before Pend Oreille County Commissioners rezone county land, including the smelter site.
"There are so many pieces. It's like a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle. It's exhausting," Phyllis said of the need to educate people so they can write letters and raise funds for legal actions.
She considers consumer demand for silicon for computers, airplanes and other products, as well as solar panels, part of overconsumption.
"All our lives, Ted and I have opposed exploiting natural resources and furthering global warming. Then we wake up one day, and the threat is in our back yard," Phyllis said. "We could say we are too old, our knees hurt, or we have to focus on family, but we said we can act. We have to protect what we have and keep our area rural.
"My faith keeps me focused on protecting human health and God's creation for our grand and great-grandchildren. We want them to know what is important in life. If I let people destroy my back yard, who am I as a Christian? My legacy is to stand up," she said, "because I can act here."
Phyllis' family moved to Clark Fork, Idaho, in the 1940s. After she married Ted, he worked with the Forest Service in Newport, and they bought the farm.
In 1983, she earned a bachelor's degree in education at Eastern Washington University. Then from 1985 to 2005, she taught in Grayling and McGrath, Alaska. She and her family returned summers to the farm.
For information, call 509-447-7958 or 671-1763 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit rgnew.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June, 2019