Spokane Journal of Business

HiTest Sand buys land to build silicon plant south of Newport

Permitting process started for $325 million smelter

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Canada-based HiTest Sand Inc. has bought 186 acres of land south of Newport, Wash., and started the application process for necessary permits to build a $325 million silicon smelter there, says Gregg Dohrn, who’s working as the HiTest project manager for Pend Oreille County.

HiTest last month purchased the land for its development from the Pend Oreille County Public Utility District for $300,000, says Colin Willenbrock, general manager at the PUD. 

The site is just outside of the city of Newport, abutting the Idaho border a little more than a mile south of the U.S. 2-Idaho state Route 41 junction.

Dohrn projects the application and review process could take a year or more, and construction could take another two years. 

HiTest is hoping to start construction before then, in either spring or summer 2018, he says.

The company already has done much of the preliminary work for permitting, he says.

The PUD acquired 172 of those acres in 1995, planning to build a gas turbine generating facility. That plan was abandoned, and the land was used for timber until March 2016, when the PUD commissioners declared the land surplus, says Willenbrock.

As of last week, HiTest hadn’t submitted an official request for power for that land, Willenbrock says.

A few months ago, the PUD acquired another 13 acres adjacent to its property, with the intent to sell all 186 acres to HiTest, he says.

The Pend Oreille County Board of Commissioners has formed an executive committee of local elected officials to streamline communication between parties involved in the permitting process, Dohrn says.

HiTest executives and state and local officials from both Washington and Idaho met last week regarding permitting.

Dohrn says HiTest has hired Arlington, Va.-based Ramboll Environ Inc. to make air dispersion models to ensure the smelter will comply with Washington state emission standards.

The Washington state Department of Ecology also will require emission assessments to discern whether the facility will be able to meet national Clean Air Act Standards, he says.

HiTest plans to employ 150 people for the production facility, says Dohrn. The number of construction workers working on the project could be as high as 400, depending on where HiTest is in the construction cycle, says Dohrn.

That’s not including secondary jobs that could be created as well, he says.

Pend Oreille County suffers from high unemployment, low income levels, an aging workforce population, and younger generations leaving the county to find employment elsewhere, says Dohrn.

“A new investment of this magnitude could bring significant revenue and investment,” he says.

Previously, HiTest looked at other locations for the production facility. It initially planned to develop a smelter in Usk, about 15 miles northwest of Newport.

Since then, the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, which is headquartered in Usk, has sought federal air quality redesignation from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency due to uncertainties about the emission levels that could be produced by the production facility.

HiTest also looked at a location in Addy, Wash., before focusing on the Newport site.

The Washington state Department of Commerce announced a year ago that it had awarded a $300,000 development-assistance grant toward the envisioned project.

HiTest plans to use the proposed facility to refine high-quality silica from a mine it owns near Golden, British Columbia, about 300 miles north of Newport.

Silicon is a metal that’s used in many products, including solar panels, computer components, shampoos, makeups, paint, and other everyday products, Dohrn says.

Samantha Peone
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