Candidates Debate Smelter, Issues

SANDPOINT — Candidates seeking election to Bonner County’s board of commissioners are flatly opposed the prospect of a silicon smelter being developed in Newport.

Incumbent Republican District 3 Commissioner Dan McDonald, meanwhile, is reserving judgment until the Washington Department of Ecology’s environmental review is complete.

“Then we will take a stand,” said McDonald, who added that the Bonner County Prosecutor’s Office advised commissioners against taking a position until the regulatory process plays out.

McDonald’s challenger in the District 3 race, Sandpoint Democrat Steve Lockwood, is opposed to the smelter and argued during Tuesday’s Sandpoint Reader/KRFY forum that commissioners should be on point in the battle over the proposal.

“I have grave concerns about the smelter,” said Lockwood and took issue with recorded comments by McDonald that residents can sell their property if they are opposed to PacWest’s proposal.

Steve Bradshaw, the GOP nominee for the District 1 seat on the board, also opposed the smelter.

“The pollution is going to be horrendous,” said Bradshaw, who’s being challenged by Democrat Steve Johnson in the Nov. 6 general election.

Johnson said the smelter is a clear and present danger to the paradise of North Idaho, which attracts retirees, those with medical conditions and young families looking for a healthy place to raise children. Johnson recalled looking out over the Silver Valley and seeing the devastation a smelter operation there caused.

“It was just devastating. I couldn’t believe it was North Idaho,” said Johnson.

Bradshaw, a local pastor, said he was not a politician, but was someone who was held to a higher moral authority. Johnson, meanwhile, argued that county commission positions should be decided in nonpartisan elections, such as how judges are elected to the bench.

Candidates also sounded off on the state of land use regulation in Bonner County.

Bradshaw claimed he was misquoted in the press when he said he would do away with planning and zoning if it were up to him. He then reiterated that he would “disassemble” those regulations if he could.

Johnson contended that land use regulations are a bulwark that protects landowners’ property rights.

Lockwood holds a similar view. He opposed cutting the Panhandle Health District out of the loop on building location permit reviews.

“It has resulted in some problems. We shouldn’t have that. It hurts our groundwater. It hurts our aquifer,” said Lockwood.

McDonald defended the de-tangling of red tape which has reduced fees, bureaucracy and headaches for landowners trying to develop their property.

“A permit does not guarantee compliance,” McDonald added.

McDonald was asked about a bootleg event business in the Lower Pack River Valley that is operating without permits, much to the chagrin of neighboring landowners who say their rural neighborhood’s ambiance is being destroyed by traffic and noise.

McDonald said the county shut the business down temporarily, but added that he supports the business because it helps people dealing with addiction.

“It’s all about dealing with addiction,” said McDonald.

Nevertheless, Lockwood pointed out that permits are still required and need issuance before a business can commence operation.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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