Commission praised for patience during nuke hearing
We applaud the patience of the Elmore County Commission in dealing with a very controversial issue at last week's hearing. Throughout the over four hours of testimony from both sides, the commissioners heard and saw plenty of information.
In our view, the hundreds of supporters who showed up to support jobs, clean low-cost energy, agriculture and economic growth carried the day. Testimony on our behalf was passionate, including former planning and zoning commissioners who supported our application. Farmers, large landowners, the local farm bureau, shopkeepers and average citizens all told the commission that Elmore County needs stable jobs and that rezoning our land would serve the best interests of Elmore County. We have also submitted 1,600 Idaho signatures in support of the rezone, half of them from Elmore County residents.
We know some 500 people showed up at various stages of the four-hour meeting to support us. We handed out 475 green "AEHI supporter" stickers to people and we counted about 400 of those stickers over the course of the evening (people showed up shortly after 4 p.m. to our table and were coming until after 7 p.m.). There were also many supporters who had to stand in the back and behind the boundary wall who requested stickers, but we had run out. By contrast, we counted fewer than 100 people wearing stickers opposing us throughout the entire evening. Also, fewer than 10 percent of the AEHI supporters spoke. In contrast, over a third of the opposition spoke, but many were from the same organization. Their organizations were given 10 minutes of speaking time, and then in violation of the rules individual members of the organization also spoke giving the misleading appearance of an equal number for and against.
We expect people to oppose us, but the opposition sometimes resorted to strange arguments. I'm sure some of you have been in the position where you tell someone something, they give you a blank stare and act as though they didn't hear a word you just said. That's how we often felt at last week's public hearing on our rezone.
Opponents largely ignored information presented by AEHI staff and our supporters. We showed pictures of nuclear plants with farm fields and grazing cows just a stone's throw from reactor buildings, to prove that nuclear plants are very compatible with surrounding ag land uses. We repeated that our plant would occupy just 200 of the 1,300 acres in the rezone, with most of the rest of the land devoted to farming. We made it clear our site won't have any of those large cooling towers. We stated we've already spent $8 million and put 100 Idahoans to work on our effort. We made it clear that many acres of good land could be farmed but aren't due to the high cost of water. We specified nuclear plants emit no smoke, dust, noise or odors and do not generate large amounts of traffic in operation. We made it clear we'd use a low-water design for our plant and rely on existing water rights, not impinging on existing water holders in any way. We made it clear jobs would start soon after the rezone and Conditional Use Permit approval and ramp up to several thousand during the construction phase.
We also clarified that most jobs at our plant won't require a college degree, just specialized training that we can provide.
In response, people made some amazing claims, suggesting we could put a dump or tire-burning plant on the site. Another gentleman worried about terrorists using advanced radar weaponry to induce earthquakes to destroy reactors and cities. They insisted our plant would destroy their rural setting, even when the reality of nuclear plants shows they are good neighbors and take up little room. Some kept referring to the land as "their farmland" and that they wanted to farm it, so it should be kept as-is for their benefit (whatever happened to private property rights? And why has the land been sold several times as recently as 2007, but no one from Elmore County purchased it?). They also said farmland is disappearing; having grown up on a farm myself, this is a strong appeal to make. However, according to the USDA's 2007 Census of Agriculture, "nearly 300,000 new farms have begun operation since the last census in 2002." Elmore County farm statistics, obtained from the county extension office, show farms in the county also increased between 2002 and 2007, from 364 to 381. While Idaho agriculture is robust, we know farmland figures could increase substantially if our power plant is built, as many acres cannot be irrigated due to lack of low-cost power for irrigation pumps.
Most surprisingly, several opponents said the jobs won't materialize because the plant won't be built -- then proceeded to argue against the rezone so the plant could not be built!
The Snake River Alliance is a master of these both-sides-of-the-fence arguments. On one hand, the SRA says our reactor can't be built for a mountain of reasons -- but if they really believe that, why are they spending their time opposing us? Their preoccupation with our project is unintended but welcome testimony that we are fully capable of building this plant and have an excellent shot at success, even given the current financial markets.
For someone to build a commercial nuclear plant in Idaho on their watch would pretty much verify the SRA has lost relevance and is out of touch with modern environmental thinking, even more so than the successful Areva and Idaho National Laboratory expansions demonstrate.
So, this really is about jobs: theirs (about 10) versus ours (about 5,000, with salaries much higher). It's also stunning the Snake River Alliance would say it's concerned about jobs and agriculture in Elmore County, when it has advocated the closure of Mountain Home Air Force Base and supported restricting water supplies to farmers to protect the Bruneau Snail. I am frankly surprised at their alliance with the Hammett-area farmers. I guess the saying "My enemy's enemy is my friend" holds, even uniting former enemies who haven't considered the consequences. What will these farmers do when the newly empowered SRA resumes advocacy of cutting their water rights to protect a snail or return farmland to its original "pristine condition"?
Despite all the misinformation, the people who made the loudest statement last week were our hundreds of supporters. Sadly, the SRA and opposition websites (which don't allow comment) discount and mock the people who are eager and willing to get to work building and running a reactor.
Our opponents concern themselves with obstructing and stopping, not building and creating. No matter how this is resolved, we have made a very clear statement that Elmore County's (and Idaho's) baseload energy supply and economic development are pressing issues - and neither the Snake River Alliance nor their supporters have any plan to address them.
President and CEO of Alternate Energy Holdings Inc.