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Economic opportunity in Elmore County June 11, 2009

Posted by cleanidahoenergy in AEHI, Agriculture, economic benefits, Elmore County, rural nuclear.
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There’s an important subtext in the controversy about our proposed nuclear power plant in Elmore County. It’s uncomfortable and sensitive to discuss, but it needs to be done.

This is an issue of economic and social justice.  Yes, we seek to enrich ourselves and our investors by building a power plant and, in the American spirit of capitalism, create a useful product, create family-wage jobs and do our part keeping society running (the same could be said of any successful farm, factory or business). If our plans are defeated, the Snake River Alliance will go back to their homes in Sun Valley and Boise’s North End, the farmers will go back to their farms, and the two groups will likely never speak to each other again after popping the champagne. Meanwhile, issues of social and economic justice in Elmore County will remain unaddressed.

I believe the SRA and a few vocal Hammett-area farmers have little interest in bringing more well-paying jobs to the area, because any such proposal is totally absent from their plans. The only reason farmers and environmental activists even talk to each other in this case is because they share a common goal in stopping our power plant. Beyond that, they have no hopes or dreams, other than to keep things just as they are.

The Snake River Alliance and their newfound allies, some Hammett-area farmers, have collected 100 petition signatures against rezoning the land for our plant. I seriously doubt, though, the SRA and friends sought petition signatures at food assistance lines, at downtowns, at trailer parks, at senior centers, or at a jobs fair of their own creation. We did and collected 1,600 signatures, about half of them from Elmore County residents.

Let’s look at some demographic figures. According to the U.S. Census, 12 percent of Elmore County residents live below the poverty level, about the same as in the rest of Idaho. With a 2008 population of 29,000, that’s about 3,480 people who do not earn enough to meet basic needs for themselves or their families.

To get a closer look at Hammett and Glenns Ferry, we need to rely on 2000 Census data from zipskinny.com.

  • In the 83627 ZIP of Hammett (population 616), 16.9 percent of the population lived below the poverty line, much higher than the rest of Elmore County. The median household income was $34,000. Interestingly, about 39 people in the Hammett ZIP code reported making more than $200,000 a year. About 35 percent of the Hammett ZIP Code identified as Hispanic.
  • In the 83623 ZIP code of Glenns Ferry (population 1,938), more than 21 percent of the population lived below the poverty line, significantly higher than the rest of Elmore County. The median household income was $29,600, although around 19 people reported making more than $200,000 a year. About 29 percent of Glenns Ferry ZIP code residents identified themselves as Hispanic.

Hammett-area farmers have worked hard to establish their livelihoods so if any of them are in the group of people earning $200,000 a year, they have undeniably worked hard for it. But I don’t think we came across any of that elite group in the towns of Hammett or Glenns Ferry.

These figures suggest a larger-than-average percentage of Glenns Ferry and Hammett-area residents are “economically disenfranchised,” as the sociologists like to say. In plain English: These families live in poverty, are struggling to make ends meet, earn below-average wages and are at risk for losing their homes, food and ability to educate themselves for a better future. Perhaps they don’t often show up at public hearings or comprehensive plan meetings or write letters to the editor, but they are there if you care to ask them what they think and hope for. If the Hammett-area farmers are among the movers and shakers in Elmore County, these people are among the moved and the shaken.

Our on-the-ground organizing work in Hammett and Glenns Ferry discovered what is easy to see to anyone who cares to look: Glenns Ferry and especially Hammett are in economic distress; they need significant investment in infrastructure; too many people live in trailers and homes in serious need of repair. Food lines are well-attended by the old, working families and the young. Glenns Ferry’s original commercial town center is largely vacant. In conversations, we found many people lost their jobs at a food processing plant or were seasonal agricultural workers and were worried about keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table. Because of language differences, we had to inform many people in Spanish. “Tratamos de construir una planta de energia nuclear …”

Many of these people eagerly signed our petition and we truly hope to provide them with year-‘round family-wage jobs, good housing and a more secure life. Our opponents like to say only the lowest-level jobs would go to Elmore residents or, conversely, that Elmore residents wouldn’t qualify for any jobs. Tellingly, the people we sought out didn’t seem to share those concerns.

I’ve supervised thousands of workers in my career and a nuclear plant is very much a meritocracy. I can tell you that any Elmore County resident who passes security checks and makes it through whatever training they need may put their skills to work at our power plant. They – and their children – are as eligible as anyone else to work as landscapers, mechanics, technicians, security officers, office workers, pipefitters, attorneys, materials handlers, managers, electricians or nuclear physicists. Whatever the job, the power industry pays very well, with nuclear plant jobs averaging $80,000 a year. Beyond the plant itself, the abundant, low-cost energy will draw other well-paying businesses.

It seems all too easy for the Snake River Alliance to ignore these issues of economic justice and align themselves with the few landowners who rely on – and may wish to maintain – a pool of cheap labor, whatever the human cost. Their imagery of rural bliss leaves out the desperation and difficult living conditions that thousands of Elmore County residents face.

We believe hardworking people deserve opportunities to do better for their families. Hopefully the Elmore County Commission agrees.


1. Jim - June 14, 2009

How are the economic and social justice concerns of Elmore County helped by AEHI maintaining its office in Eagle, Ada County, for $1700 per month for only 1000 sq. ft. of space? AEHI could get much more for much less cost in Hammett or Glenns Ferry- and provide the much needed economic benefit you say you are interested in supplying to this depressed area. As you state above: “Glenns Ferry’s original commercial town center is largely vacant.” Yet, month after month, AEHI chooses to spend its money outside Elmore County. So far, you have demonstrated that, even to your company’s economic detriment through higher rent, you choose to spend money with no regard to the well being of Elmore County residents. Actions speak much louder than words.

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