Elmore County Hands AEHI Defeat on Nuke Plant
Snake River Alliance News Release
Nov. 6, 2008
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Andrea Shipley
Elmore County officials delivered a serious blow to developers of a proposed nuclear reactor near Mountain Home Wednesday night, recommending against rezoning more than 1,300 acres of Snake River farmland for use as the reactor site.
The Elmore County Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-2 to recommend the County Commission reject the rezoning request by Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc. AEHI wants to a large tract of land rezoned from agricultural to heavy industrial to accommodate its proposed 1,600MW reactor, but the Planning Commission determined the rezoning would violate Elmore County’s Comprehensive Plan for myriad reasons. The project now moves to the three-member Board of County Commissioners, which can accept or reject the recommendation and which can hold its own hearings.
“This is a huge victory for the people of Elmore County who spoke so eloquently and forcefully to defend Elmore County from this outlandish nuclear reactor scheme,” Snake River Alliance Executive Director Andrea Shipley said. “We congratulate them for their passionate defense of their cherished way of life and the land and water that is so vital to their communities and to all of Idaho.”
Commissioners discussed the rezoning request at length following a 90-minute presentation by AEHI consultant Mark Pecchenino, who after three earlier public hearings was given a chance to rebut testimony by dozens of concerned residents who opposed the project and the rezoning of prime farmland to a heavy industrial use.
“This application is not in compliance with the Comprehensive Plan,” Commissioner Al Sobtzak said before the vote against the AEHI request. Commission Chairman Nick Nettleton agreed, saying the Comprehensive Plan requires all heavy industrial activities be located in the county’s only M2 zone, which is along the Simco Road area south of Interstate 84 – nearly 20 miles to the west of the proposed reactor site at the Elmore-Ada County boundary.
Commissioners also agreed with county residents and others who said the Comprehensive Plan places agricultural land at a premium, and that the plant would undermine other parts of the Plan that call for the protection of the rural way of life around Hammett, which is only five miles from the site.
Nettleton said county planners deliberately designated the Simco Road area for heavy industrial: “We were open-minded to having more heavy industrial; the question was where,” he said. He also said there are 31 houses within two miles of the site, adding, “That’s too close to heavy industrial. This isn’t something you put next to a person’s house.”
“There could have been no other decision,” Shipley said. “The Alliance strongly opposes any commercial nuclear reactor anywhere in Idaho, but regardless of how one feels about nuclear power, this is clearly the worst kind of project in the worst possible location.”
The Alliance joined a formidable coalition of farmers, medical professionals, water users, educators and families countywide who objected to obliterating hundreds of acres of farmland for a water-intensive energy complex that will generate massive amounts of radioactive waste. The project also threatens to upend Elmore County’s rural lifestyle by injecting thousands of construction workers into the county, requiring hundreds of new homes to house them, and severely taxing the county’s roads, schools, and public services. One commissioner also said the plant would violate the Comprehensive Plan’s protection of the private property rights of nearby property owners – despite Pecchenino’s claim that nuclear plants actually increase the value of surrounding property.
In addition, a report prepared by the Planning and Zoning staff cautioned that the reactor project would certainly have an impact on the rural Snake River Plain lifestyle, not to mention impacting the ink-dark skies so valuable to the nearby Bruneau Dunes State Park’s observatory with bright lights.
AEHI CEO Don Gillispie did not attend Wednesday’s hearing, nor has he attended the three before it. His company last month filed its Registration of Securities with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, confirming AEHI lacks the resources to build the reactor, let alone buy the land or file required applications with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The SEC filing brims with cautions to would-be investors that the reactor scheme could fail for numerous reasons. It also said AEHI might need to spend $6 million to buy water rights above those that would come with the land that AEHI has not yet purchased.
Despite claims by AEHI that the reactor would use a new technology that requires less water to cool the plant, farmers and other county residents argued forcefully before the Commission that the project will consume enormous amounts of water from the Snake River, which already is so over-allocated that the Idaho Department of Water Resources once again issued a warning to Snake River water rights holders that their access to water might be curtailed next year if river conditions can’t support the huge demand.
While Wednesday night’s vote was a major setback for AEHI and its reactor plans, Shipley cautioned the County Commission could still ignore the Planning Commission’s recommendation and move the project ahead.
“We can’t imagine county commissioners will reject such a resounding message from the Planning Commission,” Shipley said, “but the Alliance and the diligent groups of concerned residents will continue to make the case that this is a blatant insult to the Comprehensive Plan. This won’t end until the AEHI withdraws its proposal and leaves Elmore County.”
Shipley also noted Elmore County is actually AEHI’s second choice for its reactor. The company originally selected what it described as the “perfect site” in Owyhee County at C.J. Strike Reservoir, 15 miles downstream on the Snake River. “Even if Elmore County sends AEHI packing, which we believe will happen, AEHI has a history of taking its nomad nuclear plant on the road to another county,” Shipley said. “We will work relentlessly to make sure that doesn’t happen and that another county isn’t victimized by this project.”
The Snake River Alliance has a long history of advocating for the cleanup of the radioactive legacy from the Cold War at the Idaho National Laboratory and protecting the Snake River Aquifer that lies underneath the contamination. It also