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Asphalt plant deliberations tabled

by Alecia Warren
| December 11, 2010 8:00 PM

COEUR d'ALENE - The testimony was divided between a business saying it had no options, and property owners pleading over quality of life. The Kootenai County commissioners needed more time.

After hearing five hours of testimony at a public hearing on Thursday night, the commissioners agreed to table deliberations on whether a controversial asphalt batch plant in Rathdrum can continue operating there permanently.

For now, the officials must review the bevy of complaints and pollution stats with Coeur d'Alene Paving's application for a permanent special notice permit.

"Are the DEQ (Department of Environmental Quality) standards there to protect public health? Are they strong enough to protect health or not, so that over time, these standards aren't going to degrade public health?" said Commissioner Todd Tondee during the hearing. "That's what this boils down to."

More than 100 made it to the county Administration Building to hear a decision on the 100-by-150 foot asphalt batch plant, which the commissioners approved to operate at its Highway 53 location for a maximum of two years, expiring the spring of 2011.

Sandy Young of E Squared Planning and Design, representing Coeur d'Alene Paving, said the plant should remain because it has met all zoning and public agency requirements.

"This special notice permit has come through with flying colors," Young said.

She held up a thick stack of pollution complaints the plant's neighbors submitted to the DEQ over the past two years.

"None of these complaints were found to have any validity to them, despite numerous inspections by all public agencies," Young said. "They (Coeur d'Alene Paving) remained squeaky clean."

Todd Kaufman, the company's co-owner, said he hasn't been able to find another site for the plant, despite the commissioners' order to do so.

"Everything else isn't big enough, or isn't zoned mining," Kaufman said. "This is still the best we have."

Some of the company's 40 employees said they worried for their jobs, as the company depends on a permanent location to remain competitive.

Several folks living close to the plant said they have never noticed pollution.

Many felt otherwise.

Attorney Dana Wetzel spoke on behalf of 30 neighbors of the plant in opposition. She noted that out of 105 complaints on the plant's pollution in the last two years, DEQ's limited staff could only follow up on 47, and only 14 while the plant was running.

"I would say if you want to see if the plant is squeaky clean, DEQ is one way to look at it, but that doesn't tell you everything," she said.

Ranking odors is subjective, Wetzel added, and recalled one resident whose real estate agent knocked his home price down $10,000 after smelling the plant fumes.

"You showed Coeur d'Alene Paving compassion. You gave them two years to move this plant," Wetzel said.

A long stream of neighbors also complained the fumes have caused stress and health problems.

Wetzel said there is national debate over the validity of DEQ air quality standards.

Mark Boyle, DEQ's Coeur d'Alene Region air quality manager, could only offer that people smarter than him had made those standards.

Young called Wetzel's concerns a misdirect.

"It is the standards of the county zoning ordinances, of PHD (Panhandle Health District), and fire districts, those are the standards we're required to meet," she said. "And those are the standards we've met."

The commissioners scheduled deliberations for 10 a.m. Dec. 16 in their chambers in the county Administration Building.

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