Commission Race Centers on Proposed Silicon Smelter
The race for one county commissioner seat in Pend Oreille County seems to center on one major issue, the possible siting of a controversial silicon smelter in Newport.
Mike Manus is the Republican incumbent commissioner. He's been on the commission since 2012. Manus says his major accomplishments include supporting the timber industry in an effort to boost employment, and his work on health care issues. He sits on the board of the organization Better Health Together.
But it is the issue of the proposed Pac West Silicon smelter that has become the major issue of this election.
Manus has worked with other state lawmakers to help the Canadian company find a location to build a plant in the county. If allowed to be built, he says the project would bring new employment to the economically depressed area.
“There would be 150 direct jobs, and there’s a five–to-one multiplier, so that’s another 750 jobs. Some of those would be businesses out of Spokane. The large majority would be in the local community,” Manus said.
He realizes that the county is divided over the idea, and worries about the environmental impact the smelter would bring to the region known for its lakes, mountains, and natural beauty. But he says if regulators sign off on the plan, it will be a good thing for the community.
“I support the smelter as long as it passes through the Department of Ecology. We asked Ecology to be the lead agency on this because they have the expertise that we don’t in our small county. We also have asked the Department of Health to do a health impact assessment. And we asked for a weather monitoring station to be put on site so we have local data for the permitting process, ” Manus said.
Some in the community feel that state and county leaders have not listened to their concerns that siting the industrial plant in a rural community may be inappropriate.
One who shares that view is commission candidate Sheryl Miller, who is running as an independent. She says the public has had no real input on the smelter proposal:
“Lack of transparency, the back room deals, the good old boys club, and the citizens are just being cut out of the whole picture,” Miller said.
Miller, whose background includes management in the Flying J Corporation, claims there is evidence to indicate Manus and others worked to make sure the potential Newport site was chosen, as opposed to other less pristine locations, such a former industrial site in the Stevens County town of Addy.
“We have emails with Mr. Manus congratulating the manager of the PUD for keeping it under wraps, emails sent to the other commissioners about keeping it on the down low and quiet. They purposely kept it quiet so the citizens did not know about it,” she said.
Manus responded by saying when courting a new potential business, you have to be cautious because that business doesn’t want all of its plans revealed immediately. He says he and other officials did not direct the smelter company specifically to Newport, but that several potential sites were looked at, including Addy, Ione, Metaline Falls, and Usk. He says the company preferred the Newport site because of power access, roads, and potential labor force.
The race may be a close one if people vote mainly on the smelter issue. One survey taken this summer by Robinson Research of 400 people in the area found that 39% indicated they oppose it, compared to 38% who support it.