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Opponents of Smelter Say Land Sale Didn't Follow State Law

Doug Nadvornick/SPR


An official challenge has been filed in connection with a land sale connected to a proposed silicon smelter that would be built in Newport, Washington.

The challenge comes in the form of a letter sent by attorneys working with the Gonzaga Environmental Law and Land Use Clinic to the Pend Oreille County Public Utility District, which sold land in Newport to the Canadian company Hi Test Sand. The company has ambitious plans to build a silicon smelter in the community.

Many local residents have organized opposition to the plan, fearing the environmental damage such a facility would do to the rural community.

The PUD had purchased some of the property it sold to Hi Test from Pend Oreille County.

The opponents say the sale of those 14 acres in the transaction did not follow specific state regulations.

Walter Tanner is an intern with University legal assistance. He says the law says such land sales can only be used for purposes that fall within the scope of a public utility district, that is, generating and delivering electric energy.

“Washington statues provide public utility districts with the authority to purchase or condemn land when they need it to further their operations. But buying land in order to sell it to a prospective customer is not within the realm of PUD operations,” said Tanner.

Tanner clarifies that the PUD can sell surplus property, but this did not meet the standards for that type of sale either.

“They could never have declared it surplus, and the reason for that is the PUD passed a resolution saying they were planning on selling that property, the day before they actually closed on that property from Pend Oreille County,” Tanner said.

Tanner says the PUD also failed to allow customers of the PUD a chance to vote on that surplus sale, as required by law.

He says three other parcels sold to Hi Test, did follow the state guidelines.

“That’s what so interesting about this, was the other three parcels did follow statutory procedures, and that shows the PUD knew the process, and how to do this, and chose not to,” he said.

The letter to the PUD management asks that they void the land transactions within 30 days, or legal proceedings will be taken.

PUD communications manager, Kenna Tornow, says the utility is not offering any comment on the letter at this time.


Steve was part of the Spokane Public Radio family for many years before he came on air in 1999. His wife, Laurie, produced Radio Ethiopia in the late 1980s through the '90s, and Steve used to “lurk in the shadowy world” of Weekend SPR. Steve has done various on air shifts at the station, including nearly 15 years as the local Morning Edition host. Currently, he is the voice of local weather and news during All Things Considerd, writing, editing, producing and/or delivering newscasts and features for both KPBX and KSFC. Aside from SPR, Steve ,who lives in the country, enjoys gardening, chickens, playing and listening to music, astronomy, photography, sports cars and camping.