Elmore Nuke CEO a No-Show at Rezoning Hearing
Snake River Alliance News Release
Oct. 10, 2008

Contact: Andrea Shipley
(208) 344-9161
Email: [email protected]

Elmore County kicked off its Planning and Zoning Commission review of a proposal to rezone more than 1,300 acres of agricultural land for a nuclear power plant Wednesday, but the head of the company hoping to build the reactor didn’t show up and sent his consultants instead.

The long-awaited P&Z hearing on a request by Alternate Energy Holdings Co. to rezone a huge parcel of prime farmland above the Snake River got off to an inauspicious start when the company spokesman told the Commission that AEHI CEO Don Gillispie was out of state on business. Posting on his blog Thursday, Gillispie said he was in Las Vegas “meeting with Mexican officials” in hopes of building nuclear reactors in that country.

In Gillispie’s place, the Commission heard from AEHI consultant Mark Pecchenino, who gave a 30-minute presentation of AEHI’s massive rezoning request. Three Elmore County residents spoke in favor of the reactor proposal.

“For a project of this magnitude to receive such a cursory presentation by a consultant because the applicant had other plans is inexcusable,” Snake River Alliance Executive Director Andrea Shipley said after the meeting, which drew about 150 concerned residents. “It’s hard to imagine how the Planning and Zoning Commission or the people of Elmore County came away from this hearing knowing anything more about this project than it already knew from reading the rezoning application.”

Shipley said Pecchenino failed to explain how the reactor project, south of Mountain Home and just five miles from Hammett and a mile from the Snake River, meets the requirements of the Elmore County Comprehensive Plan. Under county ordinance, that plan must guide the Commission’s recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners in November on whether the rezoning should be approved.

While Pecchenino told the commission AEHI isn’t required to state in its rezoning application what it intends to do with the property, he then presented information on how other nuclear power plants have been approved elsewhere in the United States – but failed to discuss whether those communities’ land use plans called for such developments. Elmore County’s plan does not.

“The fact these nuclear reactors were built more than a generation ago might be interesting to the developer,” Shipley said, “but it has absolutely nothing to do with sticking a nuclear reactor in the heart of Elmore County farmland on the Snake River.”

Pecchenino also repeated AEHI’s claim that its nuclear plant complex will bring in $53.2 million in annual property taxes to Elmore County, but that claim is based on a year-old economic study done for AEHI when it was still pitching its reactor scheme to Owyhee County, downstream on the Snake River. In fact, a bill passed by the 2008 Legislature and signed by the governor allows counties to cap property taxes on the first $2 billion invested for such projects, meaning the actual revenues to Elmore County may be a fraction of what AEHI claims.

Pecchenino also claimed Elmore County residents will benefit from this abundant new energy resource, when in fact no Idaho utility has indicated an interest in purchasing AEHI’s power. And he said the power will be competitively priced, given that investors will pay the plant’s cost. While it’s true investors will have to pay for the plant, the significantly higher costs of the power from such a plant would be passed on to utility customers.

“Anyone who attended this meeting has to have been seriously disappointed at the caliber of this presentation,” Shipley said. “Scores of residents and organizations submitted detailed comments and questions to the commission about this proposal, and tonight few if any of those questions were addressed.”

In another development, the Elmore County Growth and Development Department released its staff report to the Commission on Thursday. That report raised a number of serious issues that will have to be addressed before the project moves forward, Shipley said.

For instance, the report cites concerns raised by the Idaho Department of Water Resources about where AEHI plans to acquire the massive amounts of water needed to cool and operate the reactor. IDWR cautioned AEHI faces an uphill attempt to transfer the existing irrigation water rights to an industrial use, and also warned the existing use is for irrigation season only – it is not a right to withdraw Snake River water year-round.

“It would be difficult to obtain new water rights from the Snake River in that location due to concerns about Trust Water,” the IDWR comments said. “In a general sense, Trust Water is the available water in the Snake River system, whether surface water or tributary ground water, in excess of minimum stream flow requirements at the Murphy Gage downstream from Swan Falls Dam Complex. Trust Water statutes and Water Appropriation Rules govern the ability to obtain new water rights from surface water and/or tributary ground water for the site in question.”

The staff report continues: “IDWR also indicates that the western portion of the site falls within the Mountain Home Ground Water Management area. This most likely precludes the ability to obtain new water rights from ground water diversions for that portion of the site.”

Besides the huge obstacles in obtaining water to cool and run the nuclear plant, AEHI’s proposal faces other challenges in complying with Elmore County’s growth plan.

The staff report noted the project will change the “rural lifestyle of the area” and will place huge burdens on the roads leading to the site. And the report raises serious questions about whether AEHI’s project would harm private property rights, given the project will have direct impacts on nearby farmers and other landowners.

The report also notes the Comprehensive Plan has designated the county’s only heavy industrial zone in the Simco Road District, some 19 miles from the proposed reactor site. It does not call for a new heavy industrial zone elsewhere in the county, as AEHI is proposing.

“The developer of this proposal has tried to twist Elmore County’s Comprehensive Plan like a pretzel to make it seem like a nuclear reactor in Snake River farm country is legal, let alone a good idea,” Shipley said. “It’s clearer now than before that AEHI cannot meet the rigorous standards that Elmore County rightly adopted to plan its future growth.”

The Planning and Zoning Commission will hold its next hearing on Oct. 22 to hear from groups opposed to AEHI’s project, then on Oct. 29 to hear from individuals who oppose it. It will conclude with a Nov. 5 hearing to allow AEHI to rebut the opposition. The commission is expected to make a recommendation after the Nov. 5 hearing, after which the County Commission will being its hearing process and decide whether to rezone the land.

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 advocates clean energy alternatives to nuclear and fossil fuel power generation.