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As I mentioned in my previous post, I’ve been spending a fair amount of time in Elmore County collecting petition signatures and otherwise finding and networking with people who support our proposed nuclear plant. I like the work because I’m pretty extroverted, but there’s a sense of urgency. Wednesday, April 22 will be a make-or-break day for the plant effort, as the Elmore County Commission will hold a hearing about our request to rezone land for the plant.
Today I spent the afternoon and early evening in Hammett, a small farming town of a few hundred people between Mountain Home and Glenns Ferry, and a few miles from the site of our proposed nuclear plant. There’s a lot of hardship in Hammett and for a Boise PR consultant used to a comfortable life, it was an eye-opening experience.
In Treasure Valley, as hard as we have it, I think we’re largely insulated from the worst of the economic downturn. To really see a town suffering, spend some time in Hammett. Given the events of the day, the comments of some of our opposition seem downright callused toward people who are struggling to get by and find work.
I went door-to-door and to the few businesses that were open. Closer toward the Interstate, one woman and some friends stood around a car in front of her house; the engine wouldn’t start and they were waiting for a friend to come and help.
“Will there be work there for women?” she asked me in Spanish. “I worked at the potato plant for 13 years and they laid me off when it closed. It’s really hard to find any work now.”
I told her we will make it a point to hire from Elmore County and if someone has a clean background, a good work history and completes training, we will have a job for them in construction or operations – if and when the plant is ever open (my mother is from Mexico and speak fluent Spanish). I’m paid to communicate and I do it well, but I really felt helpless. I could offer promises and hope, and my assurance I’m working as hard as I can to get the plant built, but I could do nothing to help her life immediately.
I heard loud banging around a group of mobile homes. I found two men repairing a car body with a hammer. They signed my petition, but told me they didn’t have much faith the plant would get built. Companies have let Hammett down before, they said, by not hiring much locally, or closing their factories.
“We’ve got to get something built around here,” said one of the men.
Another woman told me Hammett is always neglected, not getting the services and infrastructure it should have, and believed that would continue even if the plant were built.
“If the plant opens, it will just be a pissing match between Glenns Ferry and Mountain Home to get the benefits,” she told me. “Hammett won’t get anything.”
I’m typing this blog in the comfort of my home in Hidden Springs. Today, I was an outsider in a town where people are having a hard time coping with job loss and recession. I spent the day getting some peoples’ hopes up. Now, it’s time to deliver and devote all of my energy to the goal of developing the power plant, so that our team and the Elmore County Commission will come through for the people of Hammett.
I spent today in Glenns Ferry doing community organizing (take that, Barack Obama!). One of my clients is Alternate Energy Holdings Inc., which has proposed a large nuclear reactor near Glenns Ferry in Elmore County, about 65 miles southwest of Boise.
I drove to Glenns Ferry eager to meet with residents, particularly local small business owners who are suffering since the loss of a potato processing plant and other local employers. My head was filled with facts and figures and enthusiasm for working to bring the stable, well-paying jobs that come with a power plant. The owner of a local gourmet foods store said if I really wanted to find lots of supportive people, I should go to the local VFW hall, where volunteers were distributing food baskets.
The desperation of many of the town’s residents really started to sink in at the VFW hall. My first action was to hold the door open so an elderly lady could cart out boxes of donated food. Inside, people formed a line and passed by tables of volunteers to receive food. Yes, I got many people to sign a petition in support of the plant, but I felt empty. These were people of all ages, many abilities, with families and skills and great contributions yet to be made. What kinds of skills would be needed at the plant? several asked. As I ran down the list of typical jobs, I never wanted our plant to be up and running as much as I did then. Each one of these people deserves a good job and I kept them foremost in my mind as a continued meeting with other business owners throughout the day.
I also attended a Glenns Ferry City Council meeting today. Local officials in Glenns Ferry, from what I have been able to tell, strongly support our project and they realize the need for economic development. The meeting began with Liz Woodruff, a Snake River Alliance representative, briefly apologizing for her behavior at a meeting two weeks ago (I did not attend that meeting). At that meeting, AEHI CEO Don Gillispie updated the city council on our proposal and, from what a number Glenns Ferry residents have told me, her behavior included rolling her eyes, giggling, smirking and generally acting rude during Don’s presentation to the council. I’ve seen her act that way at other public meetings, so it’s a pattern.
Woodruff’s behavior two weeks ago made an impression on a number of Glenns Ferry residents, so it is understandable she felt the need to apologize today for being “visibly upset” and acting “unprofessionally” (her words today to the council). She said today her “upset came from misinformation being spread” about our proposed reactor (in other words, her behavior was Don Gillispie’s fault). I am pleased to report the audience accorded Woodruff the respect she should have given Don Gillispie. Glenns Ferry people – even those who disagree with our plans to build a plant – have at all times been polite to me.
As I sat through Woodruff’s presentation, though, I kept thinking what she would have told the people picking up food at the VFW – if she would even care to go there – and what she is doing in her own community organizing work to bring more jobs to Elmore County.
It’s easier to obstruct than construct, to tear down rather than build up, to lash out rather than listen respectfully. But that’s not the kind of community organizing that’s going bring people jobs, opportunity and industry.
I attended a presentation last night sponsored by the United States Green Building Council, Idaho Chapter, where Snake River Alliance discussed energy policy. One of my clients is Alternate Energy Holdings Inc., which is seeking to build a nuclear plant in Elmore County, and the SRA vituperatively opposes the project.
It’s clear most decision makers and members of the public check the “all of the above” box when it comes to energy policy; nearly 7 in 10 Americans support nuclear energy, as well as all of Idaho’s congressional delegation and President Obama. The nuclear industry has a long history in Idaho and is a crucial part of the state’s economy.
The SRA is finding itself in an increasingly isolated anti-nuclear stance and to make up for that, it’s pitching itself as a renewable energy advocacy group to the public and officials that it’s lobbying. The SRA is hoping the feel-good aspects of renewables will lead to greater acceptance of their feel-bad stance on nuclear.
The SRA’s lobbyist, Liz Woodruff, left out some important points in her presentation, though. While she praised Idaho’s 2007 energy plan and advocated for its greater implementation, she avoided mentioning that the plan does, in fact, call for nuclear energy to be a part of our energy mix (add the Idaho Legislature to the list of groups that check the “all of the above” box). As someone who believes we need to pursue all low-carbon and carbon-free energy sources, I also support the 2007 Idaho Energy Plan – in its entirety.
Woodruff also avoided mention that the public and fellow environmental groups are frequently obstacles to energy production and transmission in general, and to renewables in particular. When neighbors show up to oppose a proposed wind farm, the opposition is just as tangible as when they turn out to oppose a nuclear developer. Until the SRA can bring itself to show up to these public meetings and stand up to a roomful of angry neighbors on behalf of a renewables developer, its support for renewables will remain at the 30,000-foot level, unless it is has the pleasurable task of speaking to sympathetic groups.
That brings me to my next point: People are happy to check the box that says “all of the above” when it comes to energy. When you ask them to list what they wouldn’t mind living next to, the answer winds up being “none of the above.” Public process is a crucial component of democracy and can be used to obstruct as well as accomplish. The promoters of energy sources of any kind need to keep in mind that sometimes, their strongest opponents will be the people they are trying to serve.