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Payette County's "Thingamajig"

What's big, has 20-foot smokestacks, three 18,000 gallon tanks and sits on farmland?

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Attending Planning and Zoning Commission meetings in Payette County is not for wimps--they're tedious and technical. When nearly 100 citizens squeezed into the Payette County courtroom on July 14 (even more were out in the hallway), they were poised for an evening of engaging public discourse. Even television crews from Boise set up cameras to report on a story that heretofore had received sparse coverage.

The hearing was called to order at 7 p.m. One hour later, someone cracked the first yawn (dozens would follow). Two hours into the session, TV crews had packed up and left. Three hours in, spectators lining the walls had slumped to the floor. Four hours, five hours, six hours. As the clock swept past 1 a.m., only three spectators (including BW) were still in the room when P&Z's 10 commissioners gaveled their meeting closed.

The chief attraction of the marathon was a request from Bridge Resources (which has been exploring for natural gas in Payette County) to build an industrial facility on a 13-acre site to prep gas before it goes into commercial production (BW, News, "No Sale," June 22, 2011). The actual description of the plant was a chief point of dispute throughout the evening.

"Look it up in the dictionary," said Mike Dalton. "It's a refinery."

"It's just a big plant with a 30-foot smokestack," said Kenneth Butts.

"I'm not afraid to call it what it is--a refinery," said Manuel Borge. "A duck is a duck is a duck."

"It's a big gas thingamajig," said Julie Krygsman.

Borge, Butts, Dalton and Krygsman, all Payette County residents, said they don't want to deal with the noise, sight or smell of the plant. Steve West, president of Centra Consulting and Bridge's project administrator, won't have to cope with living near the proposed facility--he lives in the Treasure Valley. Even he couldn't seem to decide what to properly call the plant. The project was originally classified as a "gas compression and dehydration station," but on July 14, West kept referring to the facility as a "natural gas gathering center." At least one P&Z commissioner, Mary Cordova, was perplexed.

"Your narrative tonight is significantly different than what you originally presented," said Cordova. "Which is it?"

"I apologize for not being clearer," said West. "We've learned a lot in the last two months."

In fact, Bridge has learned a lot in the last year-and-a-half since it started drilling for natural gas in Payette County (BW, News, "Hell of a Well," July 14, 2010). It has drilled at 11 locations, with immediate success at three sites. Bridge wants to "frack" (the controversial technique of injecting high-pressured fluids to improve gas flows) at least four more drill sites (BW, News, "Getting Mini-Fracked," April 27, 2011).

"I have been asked to remind everyone here tonight that we're not here to talk about fracking," announced Jenni Davenport, Payette County deputy prosecutor, the hearing's mediator.

"Don't worry," said Tina Fisher in a loud whisper. "Nobody is leaving." Fisher and her husband Travis live directly next door to the parcel of land where Bridge wants to build its facility, complete with 20-foot-tall smokestacks, three 18,000-gallon tanks, a collection pond and a large gas compressor.

By the end of the evening, 28 residents had testified against the proposal. Only five testified in favor. Four of the five were either employed by or contracted by Bridge and the fifth worked in the gas and oil industry. Three witnesses, who testified in opposition, were well known to the assemblage.

"You all know me. I'm Dallas Hawker, commissioner of the New Plymouth Rural Fire Department," said the 50-year veteran of the force. "Bridge has never once come to talk to us about safety."

"They have given us zero information," said Jerry Stelling, another firefighter. "I don't understand how all of this is going on in our community."

"You need to think long and hard about what you're hearing from people this evening," said Joe Cook, mayor of New Plymouth. "I am here on behalf of the city, and I can tell you that we are officially opposed to the location for this plant."

West listened to hours of negative testimony, as Thursday night gradually became Friday morning. He returned to address P&Z commissioners' concerns on smell, noise and traffic. West was specific with some answers, not so much with others.

Smell: "I'm not expecting odors will be an issue," West said. "That's as much as I'm able to say about that."

Noise: "I'm hopeful that we will not exceed 45 decibels. That's the best I can say."

Traffic: "We're anticipating no more than five trucks per day."

But P&Z Commissioner Frazer Peterson had one major concern, even though he announced it as three.

"I think there are three major issues: location, location and location," he said. "Are you sitting here tonight and saying this location has to be it?"

"This really is it," said West. "We absolutely need this to get going so we can start drilling again."

P&Z commissioners agreed to consider the request with 13 additional conditions (including smell, noise and traffic) before they vote on the measure at their August meeting.

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