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Regional News

Washington and Idaho Residents Grill Canadian Company Over Proposed Smelter

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Doug Nadvornick/SPR
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A Canadian company that proposes to build a silicon smelter just south of Newport held a community meeting Wednesday night to try to make a good impression. Instead, representatives of Hi-Test Sand got an earful from skeptical residents.

People from Pend Oreille County and adjoining Bonner County in Idaho nearly filled the gym at Newport High School. Most had heard second or third hand about the new smelter that Hi-Test Sands wants to build, but they hadn’t had a chance to hear from company officials themselves.

President Jayson Tymko says the new facility would turn rock mined at the company’s facility near Golden, British Columbia into silicon metal. It would buy wood chips to fuel the smelter. The facility would eventually employ up to 150 people, about 90% local. That’s a pretty big deal in a rural county like this.

After Tymko, other company officials talked about details of the facility and a few state and federal regulators explained their roles in permitting it.

When time came for audience questions, Rick Kramer from Sagle, Idaho asked why the company didn’t just build its smelter in Canada. Tymko cited a variety of factors, including the opportunity to make a big splash in a small community.

“When we’re in Canada, some of the other locations, we’re a small fry. We do not add as much benefit to the community," Tymko said. "Here we have great power rates as well. We’re a phenomenal power consumer and we found a utility that is good to work with.”

Residents asked about that, wondering whether the company’s power needs would supersede theirs. A few complained their property values would go down. Others worried about noise and light coming from the facility.

A few Idaho residents noted their homes would be downwind from the facility that would be located just on the Washington side of the border. They pressed Tim Thompson from Hi-Test as to whether the company would also hold public meetings like this one in Idaho. He said this is just the beginning of the regulatory process.

“There are three things I can guarantee you tonight in regards to that," Thompson said. "One, we’re open to doing additional public meetings outside the regulatory process with you. Second, we would be glad to meet with people in smaller groups if that’s what you choose to do, where we have more time to get into the technical and engineering issues. I take very seriously the gentleman’s concerns about property values, your concerns as a neighbor. And the third thing I can guarantee you is we will listen.”  

Hi-Test hasn’t yet begun applying for permits, but that’s not far off.