(EnviroNews Idaho) — Payette, Idaho — To virtually no one’s surprise, on January 5, 2015, the Payette County Commission voted unanimously to shoot down three congruent appeals heard last month, and to uphold a previous decision by the Payette County Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) to allow a liquified natural gas (LNG) processing station and railway transportation facility (a.k.a. “bomb train station”) to set up shop in New Plymouth, Idaho.
In a session closed for public comment, Commissioners Marc Shigeta, Rudy Endrikat and Larry Church rendered the vote to UPHOLD after they had put over a ruling at last month’s five-plus-hour public appeal hearing, opting instead to make their final decision at the routine Monday morning commissioner meeting, when few can attend.
Chairman Shigeta commenced by utilizing Commissioner Larry Church like an offensive lineman – putting him out front to block, as would be requested by any run-of-the-mill college quarterback.
Church off the bat said he felt “entitled to make a few unrelated comments” due to the fact that they “allowed a great deal of latitude on the part of testimony from the public” in last month’s contentious appeal hearing.
December’s meeting, by the time all was said and done, turned out to be one of the largest, most hotly contested and starkly divided meetings in Payette County history, and it was reported by the New Plymouth Recorder that at least 226 people were in attendance. Legendary dog trainer Pete Eromenok’s property and very way of life hung in the balance as people one-after-the-other took to the microphone in testimony — both for and against the previously approved plant.
Church took the offensive, referring back to December’s appeal meeting where he offered up a rebuttal to multiple accusations from the public that the commission had been hastily approving all of Alta Mesa Idaho’s (AMI) permit requests on a quid pro quo basis.
Church: “If we were to rubber stamp it, that’s what we’d do. We developed an oil and gas ordinance because we felt like it was in the best interest of people in this county, and we do have their best interests in [mind].”
Attendees in opposition of the transfer station approval, pointed out to EnviroNews that apparently, AMI did not send even one person out to witness the commissioner’s ultimate decision on what likely represents the most critical piece of infrastructure on their planned road to profit.
AMI had put forth a heroic effort to muster up and herd every available hand on deck over to last month’s jam-packed hearing hence, the complete absence of representation on AMI’s part for the final vote raised eyebrows. These same opponents say, this stinks suspiciously of Alta Mesa already having known what decision was going to come from the commissioners – officials they say have grown way too cozy with the applicant.
All three commissioners have in the past leased their mineral rights to AMI – a point that was hammered on last month by several citizens as they lectured about the need for them to recuse themselves from voting at all on oil and gas related issues.
At one point, Church made a questionable statement without citing any references in defense of the commission’s position, while simultaneously throwing a jab at certain unnamed parties in the community – parties that just so happen to disagree with the commission’s stance on oil and gas issues as a whole.
Church: “To have an oil and gas ordinance was an option. It was not a required thing by the state. In fact, we have a neighboring county that’s pretty much decided NOT to develop an oil and gas ordinance and let that the state handle it because, you know, they don’t want to put their P&Z members and themselves through what we’ve gone through with the, you know, radical activists I guess. I don’t know how else you’d describe it.”
Payette County has three neighboring counties in Idaho: Gem, Washington and Canyon. Washington County, according to Planning and Zoning Administrator Rob Dickerson, was first in the state to adopt an oil and gas ordinance. According to Patricia Nelson, Development Services Director in Canyon, that county will have an ordinance in place by the end of 2015. In Gem, the process is well underway and has included hearings in front of a diverse oil and gas ordinance committee. It is predicted that Gem will have its ordinance in place within the next several months.
It is always prudent when one makes a statement like Church made to provide references – like for example, which county is being referred to. “A neighboring county?” Which one? Please do write or call in and let us know, as our research leads us to believe that all of Payette’s adjoining neighbors either have an ordinance, or have one in the works. In the world of journalism, if a statement of this nature is made without providing references, the reporter would be accused to pulling the information out of their you know what.
Commissioner Endrikat, when he stepped up to the plate also felt the need to address accusations made against the three of them, and their quasi-judicial Planning and Zoning Commission.
Endrikat: “I’m going to put on my preacher’s hat too. I’ve gone through the ethanol plant. I’ve gone through the nuclear plant. I’ve gone through every controversial issue that’s been out here in the last 13 years. I have never been called “dishonest,” “corrupt,” on and on and on, and that totally offends me, and I’m sure it offends the other two commissioners. It offends my family, and those that have that feeling that we are corrupt, the hell with you! I don’t care. You’re not worth it! Pure and simple — That’s all I have to say.”
After Church and Endrikat said their pieces, Chairman Shigeta with a smirk added, “after all those sermons, what would I have to say? It was a good job,” at which time the dialog was picked up again by Commissioner Church, though Shigeta did continue to grin from ear-to-ear as his virtual offensive lineman took over and blocked for him again.
Church: “I feel for the Eromenoks especially, and the actions of the others (whoever that is) don’t help your case, I know that but, I think we’ve tried to be open minded about it.”
Shigeta did chime in right before the vote with this: “It’s [oil and gas] part of our resource base for over 70 or 80 years. It’s coming out of the ground. There must be a way to do it safely. I find it interesting that we started in 2009 – we pleaded for people to sort of engage with us and help us through this, developing our understanding [of] this industry, and we’ve done our homework. And I think we’ve done a pretty thorough job of looking into all aspects of it so, I too am fairly comfortable with the Planning and Zoning’s decision.”
In a strange sequence of events, when it came time to vote, Larry Church was unsure the proper way to voice his voice vote and turned to Shigeta for help. Church said, “so do you deny, or do you…” Shigeta replied, “You move to uphold.” He did not say “you move to uphold, or not to uphold.”
Church then started into his voting language with “I move to uphold the decision of the Planning and Zoning.” On the tape, you can see Shigeta lip-synching along, word-for-word with Church as he voted. Edrikat then stated, “I will second that,” to which after Shigeta called for a yea-neh voice vote to which Church and Endrikat said “aye.” Shigeta did not cast a voice vote.
Just like that, Alta Mesa’s railway transportation facility and processing plant was approved by Payette County, and the Eromenok’s and their K9s can now plan on having one million-plus gallons of toxic explosive hydrocarbon liquids next door in the upcoming months. That will turn the page on this chapter in Idaho’s first gas-patch battle — unless somebody decides to incur the expense of appealing the issue into a higher court that is.
FILM AND ARTICLE CREDITS
- Emerson Urry - Journalist, Videojournalist, Author, Video Editor, Sound Editor, 3D Animator