Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Kalispel Tribe raises concerns about silicon smelter in letter to Gov. Inslee

Hundreds turned out for a public hearing on a proposed silicon smelter near Newport on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. Many residents oppose the plan, citing concerns about property values and potential pollution. (The Spokesman-Review)

Gov. Jay Inslee should rescind a $300,000 grant and a “project of statewide significance” designation for a controversial smelter project in Newport, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians says.

Glen Nenema, the tribe’s chairman, said the Kalispels waited more than a year to take a position on the proposed silicon smelter. Tribal officials wanted to give HiTest Silicon “an opportunity to show that the smelter’s emissions would not be harmful,” Nenema wrote in a letter to the governor.

However, preliminary modeling by HiTest’s consultants indicate the smelter would be Washington’s 15th-largest emitter of greenhouse gases, releasing 320,000 tons of carbon dioxide annually. Other pollutants from the stack include nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and sulfur dioxide – which create smog and acid rain.

The smelter’s emissions will “sully our air, harm our health, and pollute our environment,” Nenema wrote. “This is unacceptable to the tribe because our air is the last remaining natural resource in the lower Pend Oreille Basin that has not been significantly degraded.”

Revoking the grant and the statewide significance designation “would put an immediate end to your agencies efforts to expedite permitting for a facility that merits heightened scrutiny,” Nenema’s letter said. In addition, “it would prevent HiTest from continuing to advertise the designation as an endorsement from your administration.”

The governor’s office received the Kalispel Tribe’s letter on Wednesday, said Chase Gallagher, a spokesman. Inslee looks forward to engaging in government-to-government talks with the tribe, he said.

The statewide significance designation isn’t an endorsement from the governor, and it doesn’t alter the state or federal environmental review required for the smelter, Gallagher said.

The $300,000 grant came from the Governor’s Economic Development Strategic Reserve Fund. The money was awarded last year to a local economic development council to reimburse HiTest for design costs related to the $325 million smelter. If the project doesn’t live up to expectations, including projected job creation, the state can require a return of the grant.

HiTest Silicon, an Alberta company, purchased land for the smelter south of Newport. The company would ship silica from a British Columbia mine to the smelter, creating high-quality silicon for use in solar panels and other products, officials said.

The smelter will employ about 150 people, with wages ranging from $40,000 to $100,000 per year, HiTest officials said at a Wednesday meeting in Newport. The smelter’s projected opening is at least two years away.

Company President Jayson Tymko said the carbon dioxide emitted by the smelter would be offset by the silicon’s eventual use in solar panels. During the Newport meeting, other company officials said silicon smelters in Niagara Falls, New York, and Europe are short distances from residences and urban areas.

In his letter, Nenema asked the governor to work with the tribe and Pend Oreille County to identify “a more suitable business or businesses” to help revitalize the local economy.

“The last thing we need is a facility … contributing to environmental problems like acid rain and climate change,” the letter said, and “the risk of health problems like asthma, lung cancer and developmental problems.”