Judgments sought in smelter suit

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NEWPORT — A potentially decisive legal showdown is looming in the saga of the proposed PacWest silicon smelter.

Dueling motions for summary judgment are scheduled to be taken up in Spokane Superior Court on Jan. 11, court records show.

Responsible Growth*NE Washington, Citizens Against the Newport Silicon Smelter and a half-dozen landowners are calling on a judge to nullify a series of land transactions between Pend Oreille County, the Pend Oreille Public Utility District and PacWest Silicon so the Canadian company can develop the smelting facility south of town.

The county, PUD and PacWest, meanwhile, have submitted their own motion for summary judgment to short circuit the claims raised by RG*NEW and CANSS.

When parties in a civil action move for summary judgment, it can bring an abrupt halt to the proceedings before the case makes it to trial. To prevail on such a motion, the moving parties must show that there are no material issues of fact in dispute and that the case can be decided by a judge as a matter of law.

The PUD purchased a parcel of land from the county in 2017 for the express of conveying it and three other parcels to PacWest, then known as HiTest, for the development of the silica refining plant. The plaintiffs argue that the PUD’s purchase of the county parcel and the subsequent sale to PacWest were beyond the defendants’ powers and contrary to Washington state law.

The plaintiffs maintain that the county and the PUD did not conduct a vote or a public hearing before divesting the parcels.

“When the PUD ignored its obligations to perform either of these duties, it harmed plaintiffs by denying their right to be involved in the process,” counsel for CANSS and RG*NEW said in the 24-page motion for summary judgment.

The PUD argues the plaintiffs have been unable to demonstrate “personal, substantial harm,” according to court documents. CANSS and RE*NEW contend the groups’ goals of promoting and encouraging green and healthy growth in Pend Oreille County are jeopardized by the actions of the PUD and the county.

“These goals are reasonably impacted by the PUD’s failure to follow required processes and its resulting land sale to PacWest for the purposes of building a smelter,” counsel for CANSS and RE*NEW said.

Smelter opponents further contend that the PUD’s acquisition of property can only be for energy purposes, not for conveyance to a third party.

“The PUD is not a real estate agency or a real estate holding company,” the plaintiffs argue.

The PUD contends the legal doctrine of laches bars smelter opponents from advancing their claims. The doctrine holds that claims will not be enforced if there was a long delay in asserting them, which sets up a legal ambush. RE*NEW and CANSS point out that courts have rejected laches to void actions and there is no showing that their legal action was not unreasonably delayed, court records indicate.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

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