June 8, 2009

Elmore Commissioners Express Concerns about Nuke Rezoning

Elmore County commissioners on Monday raised serious questions about whether to rezone 1,300 acres of prime agricultural land for a speculative nuclear reactor, suggesting the project may fly in the face of the county’s comprehensive plan. Commissioners deferred a vote on the project, however, until next Monday.

“As far as the community of Hammett, they made it quite clear what they’re feeling,” Elmore County Commissioner Arlie Shaw said during a public discussion Monday on a request by Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc., (AEHI) to rezone about 1,300 acres from agricultural to heavy industrial to clear the way for a massive power plant just above the Snake River south of Mountain Home. Most residents in Hammett and around the plant oppose the reactor scheme.

Elmore County Commission Chairman Larry Rose noted “a lot of time and energy” was devoted to the county’s comprehensive plan and questioned whether the agricultural community of Hammett can accommodate the demands on infrastructure that would be posed by such a huge project. “The infrastructure, to me, is huge,” he said.

At issue is whether the County Commission opts to accept the recommendation by the Elmore County Planning and Zoning Commission to reject AEHI’s rezoning request as a violation of the county’s comprehensive plan. The planning commission determined the project in the heart of
Elmore County’s agricultural community would forever disrupt the rural lifestyle above the Snake River and drain county resources for schools, law enforcement, medical, housing and other services.
AEHI first tried to peddle its nuclear reactor in Owyhee County before the company realized the project would not be approved and abruptly moved upstream to Elmore County. However, the company faces a wall of opposition in Elmore as well, as farmers surrounding the proposed site are fighting AEHI alongside residents from across the county.

On Monday, County Commissioners agreed to give their lawyer a week to do further research on how their decision on rezoning the land might tie the hands of future commissions. They’re expected to continue Monday’s discussion on June 15, when they are likely to make a decision. They’re particularly interested in the project’s impact on the Comprehensive Plan and the delivery of law enforcement, health, education, and other public services.

“After today’s discussion, we feel more confident than ever that the Elmore County Commission is taking this matter very seriously and that it will reach the right decision,” Snake River Alliance Executive Director Andrea Shipley said. “It is now clear to everyone that a majority of county residents oppose this project because of the harm it would inflict on one of Idaho’s most important agricultural communities.”

Shipley also noted that Idaho’s two largest regulated utilities, Idaho Power and PacifiCorp, which does business as Rocky Mountain Power in Idaho, have no plans to buy power from this speculative plant.

Addressing IDACORP shareholders on May 21, Idaho Power CEO Lamont Keen said his company is not seriously considering adding nuclear power to its energy mix due to nuclear’s high cost and risk. And PacifiCorp just released its long-term power plan last week, saying it’s not considering nuclear until 2025 at the soonest.

“This plant has no Idaho customer, and its energy would be far more expensive than what Idaho consumers are now paying,” Shipley said. “Elmore County has huge potential to add clean energy jobs in renewables and energy efficiency. It’s time AEHI accepts the obvious: its plant is not wanted nor is it needed in Idaho.”

Shipley said Elmore County has only one heavy industrial zone, far to the west in the Simco Road area, and she agreed with Commission Chairman Rose who said a major issue before the Commission is whether the county wants to create another heavy industrial zone in the heart of farming country.

“Simco Road is the only thing we can look at; I really do believe that,” Commissioner Shaw said. AEHI has said it won’t consider building its plant in the existing industrial zone in large part because of the cost of transporting the massive amounts of water it would need to cool its reactor.

The Snake River Alliance works for responsible solutions to nuclear waste and a nuclear-free future. It seeks to strengthen Idaho’s economy and communities through the implementation of renewable energy sources in Idaho and the promotion of energy efficiency and conservation. This year marks its 30th Anniversary as Idaho’s nuclear watchdog and advocate for clean energy.