Tina Fisher is a homeowner in New Plymouth, Idaho. This is her story.
We bought our property 7 years ago, after searching for several years. When we first saw the land, it was planted in corn 7' high. Surrounded by Century farms, narrow roads, fertile fields, and panoramic views we thought we had found the ideal place to build a home that would suit us into our retirement years. You can imagine our alarm and dismay upon finding out the proposed plan the natural gas industry had for our neighborhood!
In May of 2011 we received notice from Payette County Planning and Zoning about a company named Bridge Energy seeking a permit to install a dehydration / compression station on 13 acres that abuts our property. The 15 component facility including a flare stack and glycol dehydrator that emits VOC's would start just 20 feet from our home. They were seeking a conditional use permit as well as a rezone. It is our understanding they were seeking the rezone at the same time as the CUP because they knew it did not fit the conditions of a CUP. The property was and is currently zoned Ag 1.
At the first P&Z hearing the commission tabled the CUP and decided to work on the zone change. 2 people spoke against the facility. I started doing research on what this facility was. I spent countless hours on the computer searching the Internet for information. I called numerous people that had been impacted by the natural gas industry. I also called various environmental legal groups searching for some sort of help in this true David and Goliath fight... I learned about the health effects on humans as well as animals, the environmental impacts, the loss of quality of life, and plummeting property values. I discovered the lack of local education and involvement in any of the decision making concerning location of this type of facility. I also learned about an industry that will say anything to appease the citizens when trying to get their infrastructure in place. My frustration and angst grew as well as my fear. This being the first such facility in our state, no one locally knew what it was. One of our County Commissioners said "it is just like any other compression station we have in the county." Very few people knew of the impending assault on Idaho by the natural gas industry.
At the 2nd hearing it was decided by the P &Z Commission to table the rezone and work on the CUP. They assumed this would allow greater control by the county. We began educating residents and collecting letters door to door written by Payette County citizens in opposition to the location of the facility. We also provided letters listing reasons that this type of facility should not be allowed on land zoned Ag 1 and completely out of line with the County Comprehensive plan. We gathered over 400 signatures including Mayor Joe Cook of New Plymouth, (representing over 1800 citizens) Rural Fire chief Allen Blevins and the New Plymouth School Board. I set up a booth at the Payette County Fair to educate and collect signatures. I spoke to anyone and everyone that I could get to listen to me about the effects this facility would have on our health, quality of life and property values. We collected signatures in opposition from over 95% of the residents within a 1 mile radius of the proposed site. Screenings of the movie Gaslands were held on several occasions.
We confronted the media about their lack of coverage of this very important issue. Our local newspapers did not cover any of this other than the public notice of hearing in the classified ads. We later found out that one of the members of P&Z commission that has leased a sizable amount of land sits on the Board at the local newspaper. The television reporters finally showed up at the 3rd hearing. We had a standing room only crowd of over 125 people, most testifying in opposition to the CUP. The 4 people that did speak in favor were employed by the gas company.
Prior to the 4th and final P & Z hearing a letter was sent to Planning and Zoning Commission Attorney Bert Osborn asking why the 6 Planning and Zoning members that had signed leases or had business with Bridge Energy had not disclosed this information at the first meeting. It was later found out that a total of 7 members of the P&Z had signed leases. At the 4th hearing 3 members of P&Z recused themselves due to conflict on the advice of their attorney. The other 3 were told that if the facility went in they would not immediately benefit so they could vote. A Conditional Use Permit was approved for Bridge Energy in August 2011.
An appeal was filed in Sept 2011 to the Payette County Commissioners. At the hearing 1 of the County Commissioners recused himself on the advice of their attorney. He has leased over 4000 acres to the natural gas industry. The outcome of the appeal was one Commissioner approving our appeal and one denying it. They reverted to the P & Z commission decision.
We are now embroiled in a legal battle with Payette County due to their total lack of professionalism at both the Planning and Zoning level as well as the County Commissioners. They made numerous legal errors, and their reluctance to admit it has cost us thousands of dollars and countless days of stress and frustration.
I have been involved in testifying at the Statehouse in opposition to the newly adopted rules as well as HO 464. I have learned about the level of greed and corruption that is taking place in our state. Elected officials from the county level all the way up to our Statehouse have become "Kool-Aid" drinkers. They have bought into the lies put out by industry about jobs, what good neighbors they are, and their feigned concern about our environment. Our politicians have given this industry free rein in our state, with many that will be impacted still unaware.
When this industry started the process of obtaining the Conditional Use Permit, they were prepared to bring the components of the Dehydration / Compression station in on skids and have their facility up and running in a few months. We have managed to hold up the natural gas industry for over a year now. I know they are here to stay, but we will continue to fight for what we feel needs to be protected for ourselves as well as future generations of Idahoans.