BOISE, Idaho (CN) - Ada County illegally rushed through a $2 million loan to a company to design a waste-to-energy plant, opponents of the project claim in court.
Idaho Citizens for a Safe Environment and a Transparent Government sued Ada County in Federal Court. Ada, whose seat is the state capital Boise, is the only defendant, though the complaint names many actors.
Idaho Citizens claims in its complaint that Ada County Commissioners Rick Yzaguirre, Sharon Ullman and former Commissioner Fred Tillman have a "cozy" relationship with Dynamis Energy.
The issue has brought public backlash in the form of demonstrations, countless letters to newspaper editors and TV reports.
The controversy stems from a $2 million loan commissioners granted Dynamis, a private company, in 2010, for designing the facility.
Commissioners publicly acknowledged the loan at a commission meeting in September this year. The meeting was attended by Eagle Mayor Jim Reynolds and Meridian Mayor Tammy deWeerd, both of whom represent communities belonging to the same local airshed.
A provision of the agreement stipulates that Dynamis pay back the loan when construction begins, but that has yet to happen, as the Environmental Protection Agency has not yet issued a required permit.
Idaho Citizens say the Dynamis loan violated the Idaho Constitution.
At stake is Dynamis' $75 million "green" waste-to-energy gasification plant, to be built at the site of the Ada County Landfill in the Boise foothills.
The project is anticipated to generate 22 megawatts of power daily, by gasifying more than 400 tons of residential garbage per day, including about 6 tons of tires per day, according to Dynamis.
The company, just a few miles west of Boise in Eagle, is under contract to sell the energy to Idaho Power.
Opponents claim the county had no right to give Dynamis the $2 million it needed for planning; that meetings between the county and Dynamis violated Idaho's open meeting laws; and that despite its claims, Dynamis is not using "best available practices" to prevent toxins from entering an already burdened valley airshed.
"Like so many others who have investigated the cozy relationship between Ada County and Dynamis Energy LLC, the plaintiffs are unable to understand or explain the zeal with which Ada County Commissioners Sharon Ullman, Rick Yzaguirre and former commissioner Fred Tillman have repeatedly broken and bent the law to protect and advance the best interests of Dynamis," the complaint states.
"They have done so even while denying their own constituents the right to so much as a public hearing on matters which do not merely involve violations of planning and zoning laws, but which may threaten the health and safety of every community in the greater Boise area due to the effects of the facility's emissions of toxins such as mercury and dioxin."
Opponents packed a Planning & Zoning meeting at the Ada County Courthouse last week. Although the Ada County Planning & Zoning Commission has no power to approve or reject Dynamis' plan, it can offer recommendations to Ada County Commissioners.
"The bottom line here is that there is no proof the technology works," said Eagle resident Karen Danley, an outspoken opponent of the project. "In order to verify that it will perform as designed, there must be a peer review of the plans to ensure the health of the public is not jeopardized by this project."
Danley said there have been no attempts to have anyone look more closely at the project and that the public has been all but shut out.
One opponent described the lengthy process it took to get a 20-kilowatt wind turbine approved, expressing his frustration when he heard how quickly Dynamis' $75 million, 22-megawatt project sailed through.
"It took two years to get my wind turbine approved," Craig Kulchak told the Planning & Zoning Commission. "It took nine days for these guys (Dynamis) to get approved. The improprieties committed by two of the commissioners and the out-and-out goofiness of this whole thing; it just needs to be thrown out."
Attorney Andrew Shoppe, who represents Idaho Citizens and lives about 1½ miles from the landfill, said the land is not zoned for industrial use.
The complaint states: "The [Ada County] commissioners claim that the Dynamis plant is appropriate for construction at the landfill based upon the legal effect of a seemingly innocuous amendment to an Ada County ordinance that was made long after the first Dynamis contract was ever signed, that no rezoning or other updating of the comprehensive plan is required for the Dynamis project, that all decisions have been appropriately made by the commissioners themselves or at 'staff level' and not by the Planning and Zoning Commission, and, perhaps most outrageously, that no public hearings at all are required for this enormous and long-term project."
Idaho Citizens say the commission's actions go beyond simple violations of law.
"The plaintiffs contend not only that the commissioners are wrong, but that they have acted illegally and even corruptly by deliberately violating Idaho's Open Meeting Law, by willfully evading the requirements of the Idaho Local Land Use Planning Act, by purposefully circumventing the requirements of the Ada County Comprehensive Plan, and by intentionally violating their duties as commissioners in their efforts to ensure that the Dynamis plant is constructed at all costs, even that of the public trust," the complaint states.
The group wants Ada County enjoined from proceeding any further with Dynamis.