For sheer melodrama, events surrounding Alternate Energy Holdings Inc. usually don't disappoint, and a June 6 public hearing on AEHI's plans to build a nuclear reactor in Payette County was no exception.
In just less than four hours, AEHI CEO Don Gillispie was called a liar, a former gubernatorial candidate warned that Jesus wasn't happy, and Payette County commissioners were compared to characters from Mother Goose.
"Look at you three," said Payette resident Wylie Griffith, waving his arm at Commissioners Marc Shigeta, Rudy Endrikat and Larry Church. "I'm looking at the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. When you took these jobs, you probably thought you'd be dealing with empty lots and weed patches. Now you're considering a nuclear plant. The expertise needed for this simply doesn't sit in this room."
The room was as big as the controversial issue at hand. Because of increased public interest, commissioners moved the hearing to the Payette High School auditorium. Approximately 100 people showed up with more than one-third testifying.
For several years, Gillispie has been trying to convince Idaho communities to grant him the right to build a $10 billion nuclear facility. Having no luck in Elmore or Owyhee counties, Gillispie has had some success courting Payette County officials, getting high marks from the mayors of Fruitland, New Plymouth and Payette.
But Gillispie's plans hit a snag in December 2010 when the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission ordered his company's assets frozen in the wake of allegations of a "pump and dump" scheme. Prosecutors said Gillispie misled investors with allegedly fraudulent press releases and then sold stock at inflated prices. Ultimately, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge sided with Gillispie and unfroze AEHI assets, but an SEC spokesman told Citydesk that the commission "was keeping the file open on AEHI."
"There have a been a lot of unusual distractions along the way," Gillispie testified on June 6. He brought along a good deal of support. Twenty-two individuals testified in favor of his plan, and with good reason--the majority either worked for or contracted with Gillispie.
What Gillispie's opponents lacked in numbers, they made up in emotion.
"This thing is a hoax," said Jeff Webber of Payette. "This guy is a liar."
"In the event of an earthquake or nuclear accident, we would be ruined," said Betty Bursik of New Plymouth.
One opponent took a different tack. The Gem County man who legally changed his name to Pro Life before running twice for governor and once for U.S. Senate said, "It was against God's law" to pursue nuclear energy.
"If Jesus Christ was here tonight, he'd tell you not to split atoms," said Pro Life.
Clearly overwhelmed, commissioners were anxious not to allow a Monday night meeting bleed into Tuesday morning. In pure soap opera fashion, they told everyone to tune in Monday, June 20, when they promised to have a final decision.