(By Don Gronning/Newport Miner)
Company had looked at Addy, now says no red flags so far in Newport…
(This was originally published in the Newport Miner. you can read more by the Miner at http://pendoreillerivervalley.com)
HiTest Sands Inc. president Jayson Tymko says his firm is still studying a site south of Newport proposed for a $300 million silicone smelter.
“We’re still in our due diligence phase,” Tymko said, meaning the company is getting the results of a number of studies connected on the Newport site to decide if they’ll go ahead.
“It’s taking longer than we thought,” Tymko told The Miner last Tuesday morning in a phone interview. The company has a number of subcontractors conducting studies. “It seems like every step they take leads to another,” he said.
So far there have been no red flags, Tymko says. HiTest is looking at environmental impacts over a 600-kilometer area, including impacts to air, water and transportation.
HiTest received $300,000 from the state to reimburse some of the engineering work they’ve done so far, he said. Tymko says HiTest has an eight-figure budget for developing the project.
One of the things driving the enhanced environmental studies is the Kalispel Tribe’s request to have reservation lands redesignated to meet Class 1 air quality standards under the Clean Air Act.
The tribe made their request to the Environmental Protection Agency May 15, beginning a 90-day clock for the agency to decide if they want to deny the request, said Bill Dunbar of the EPA.
“We requested some additional documentation from the Tribe on June 29, 2017, and we just officially received that material this week,” Dunbar said by email Friday.
The EPA requested more public comments, said Curt Holmes of the Kalispel Tribe. He said the tribe sent a transcript of the public meeting held at the Camas Center for Community Wellness April 10.
Holmes said the tribe asked for the redesignation to protect the area as a whole, as well as tribal members.
Dunbar says the EPA is reviewing the request to see if procedural requirements were met.
“If so, we can soon begin the process of developing a proposed approval or disapproval of the request,” Dunbar said. “Under our regulations, if the request doesn’t meet requirements we are required to disapprove it within 90 days, which includes a 30-day public comment period and an opportunity for a public hearing.”
HiTest’s Tymko says, while tests and models haven’t found anything to be concerned with yet, he wants to be able to address any community concerns that may arise, so the tests continue.
Tymko says he’s hopeful the company will be able to make an announcement on whether they’re going ahead with the project within weeks.
If built, the smelter will be only the second silicone smelter built in the last 35 years, he said. There are about a half dozen silicone smelters in the U.S., he says.
Tymko says there will be no chemicals or heavy metals involved in the smelting. The company would bring quartz to the smelter, buy local wood chips and import blue gem coal, a high carbon, low ash coal found in just two seams in Kentucky and Tennessee. Charcoal would also be used in the process.
Tymko says one of the reasons the Newport site is being considered is because the smelting process requires a lot of electricity. Tymko says the smelter will be consuming electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will be the largest user of electricity in the area, if not the state.
“That’s why the grid studies are important,” he says, referring to a study of the electric grid.
Pend Oreille County is in the process of selling about 13 acres of land to the PUD. The county land was acquired in a tax sale, which eliminates the need to get bids, county commission chairman Mike Manus said.
PUD General Manager Colin Willenbrock says all the electrical studies and preparation have to come together by September or the PUD won’t be able to serve the site with electricity.
As far as the land goes, Willenbrock says the PUD advertised their surplus land in 2010 and got no bids. He says the PUD paid $500,000 for the several parcels and won’t sell them for less than appraised value.
He said it’s been difficult to get an appraised value, since there are few comparable properties.
“The range has been all over the place,” Willenbrock says, “from $200,000 to $1 million.” There are about 180 acres involved.
The PUD hasn’t bought the county land yet. There’s about $13,000 owed in back taxes. The county is asking $26,000, the assessed value, Willenbrock says.
Manus has met with HiTest officials several times and is cautiously optimistic about HiTest locating near Newport.
“The air quality looks good, we’ve been told,” he says.
He says he is glad the company is being thorough with their due diligence work.
“They don’t want to rush and I applaud them for that,” he said.
The county, through the Economic Development Council, is trying to make sure the parts are in place for a big project like this, including housing. The county started looking into housing needs here before the HiTest project, Manus said. Manus said a developer contacted him about building 100 homes here. A housing forum will take place Thursday, Aug. 4, at the PUD’s conference room from 3-5 p.m.
There has been quite a bit of interest in HiTest’s plans. A website called Pend Oreille Health has several negative posts about the smelter.
Since the site hasn’t been selected yet, Gregg Dohrn, the county’s consultant for the project, says no permits have been applied for yet.
Dohrn says after HiTest selects a site, the process of seeking the appropriate permits begins, and with it many public hearings on the project.
The HiTest project is currently set to be a $325 million investment, with 150 jobs. HiTest Sand Inc., announced the completion of the purchase of the Horse Creek Mineral lease in Golden, B.C. in July 2016. According to a news release, independent analysis in 2014 confirmed 51,000,000 tonnes of proven reserves and an additional 28,000,000 tonnes of probable reserves.
The ore is particularly high quality, according to the news release, with the silica ore testing at 99.82 percent pure.
The quartz from the Golden mine, when processed into silicon, is optimal for the premium processed silicon metals market, including polysilicon products, solar panels, computer chips and aluminum alloys.