To be charitable, this was not the county commissioners' finest hour Monday, as they fumbled through a debate on the AEHI nuclear plant rezone request.
Eventually, the only decision they made was to send the whole matter back to the county Planning and Zoning Commission for a review process that could potentially delay any decision on the actual issue, whether or not a nuclear power plant should be built in Elmore County, for at least six months to a year.
The commissioners have yet to get to that point in the debate, and their stand on the nuclear plant rezone request is still unknown.
They clearly want every "i" dotted and "t" crossed before they make a decision, so that when the almost inevitable legal challenge to whatever decision they make is filed, they'll stand a good chance of winning the case. But in doing so, after two weeks of discussion, they appeared to most observers Monday to merely be confused and indecisive.
Those two weeks of discussion have pointed out a number of problems in the process, beginning with the limited scope of the original P&Z hearings on the rezone, which has prevented the commissioners from looking at the complete package of the proposal.
But more importantly, it has raised some serious issues regarding the county's comprehensive plan, in particular the apparently severe limits on where industrial growth may be located.
Whether or not P&Z decides to make any of the changes in the comprehensive plan suggested by the commissioners Monday, it is clear that at some time, hopefully in the near future, the issue of heavy industrial siting must come up for review, modification and clarification.
At issue are apparent contradictions in the comprehensive plan, which serves as the "strategy" for growth and development in the county, while the zoning ordinances serve as the "tactics" for how that strategy is implemented.
In one section, the plan calls for encouraging industry and manufacturing in order to improve jobs and the tax base. But in another section, it appears to call for such development only near Simco Road, a section of the county where the ability to obtain water, often a major need of industry, is severely constrained.
Furthermore, if industrial growth is to be held to only that area, then only Mountain Home and Boise can really benefit. The communities in the eastern half of the county, Glenns Ferry and Hammett, might as well just wrap themselves in amber and become fossilized relics, since they will never be able to take advantage of that type of economic development ever being located near their communities.
In a discussion we had with a highly respected former member of the county P&Z, who was serving at the time the comp plan was developed, that individual indicated P&Z did intend at that time that such development occur only in the Simco Road area. Because at that time, when the county lacked a comprehensive plan and any zoning ordinances at all, a number of controversial projects that had been rejected in Ada County were being shifted "across the border" into laissez faire Elmore County. The issue of the moment was preventing those particular types of often objectionable projects from winding up in Elmore County. "We were more concerned with stopping waste dumps and adult book stores," that former commissioner said, than looking beyond those issues to the overall long-term development of the county, and issues such as wind turbine farms and nuclear power plants weren't on anybody's radar at all.
That's a pretty realistic analysis of the plan at the time it was created. When it comes to land use planning, no matter how creatively you think ahead, something comes up that you never considered, and issues of the moment tend to cloud the overall vision. That's just the reality of how things actually work.
Whether or not the county should, or even can, rezone the land southwest of Hammett to allow construction of a nuclear power plant is one issue, and the current issue of the moment.
But in the long run, the county needs to seriously review and revise the heavy industry/manufacturing section of its comprehensive plan, because the water constraints on Simco Road, and likely future commercial and residential development in that area, make it a poor location today to concentrate industrial development, and more importantly it puts severe restrictions on the ability of the communities of Glenns Ferry and Hammett to take advantage of the job and tax base benefits of any major industrial development that might occur in the county. That's wrong.
A new vision is needed that allows everyone to share in the rewards, while still balancing traditional values of land uses. A new, serious public debate over the long-term development of this county is, obviously, desperately needed.
-- Kelly Everitt