Recent allegations have surfaced that compel us to speak out and set the record straight concerning the integrity and role of the Economic Alliance of Lewis County.
Lewis County Public Utility District (PUD) Commissioner Mike Hadaller has put forth that our board and staff may have ulterior motives in our discussions with the Australian company, Fortescue Future Industries. He suggests in a letter published by The Chronicle and the Lewis County News the discussion, "makes no sense to me other than if someone somewhere is making a killing at our expense."
The claim insinuates a behind-the-scenes economic benefit surrounding the exploration of a hydrogen energy producing plant on the reclaimed mine land currently known as IPAT.
The Alliance Board of Directors takes these accusations seriously. These claims are unequivocally without basis. To be clear: The Alliance is not in bed with Fortescue. We have always operated with the utmost transparency and integrity.
Commissioner Ed Rothlin of the PUD has also noted, clarifying that Hadaller's opinion is personal and not the stance of the PUD. We'd like to emphasize PUD Commissioner Ed Rothlin’s clarification: The PUD has always operated ensuring industries bear their appropriate costs and residential customers are not unfairly burdened. This has been their past and it remains their present.
Further perpetuating these allegations was Commissioner Lindsey Pollock's decision to share Hadaller's letter on Facebook. We respect individual opinions but emphasize the importance of their factual basis.
Hadaller's concern over the misuse of hydroelectric power lacks merit. We remain dedicated to exploring solutions with economic and environmental benefits for our county.
Fortescue's anticipated investment stands between $400 million to $600 million. This demonstrates a firm belief in our county's potential and a commitment to its economic advancement.
Regarding the confusion over the "billion taxpayer dollars" connected to Fortescue: Gov. Jay Inslee endorsed a joint proposal that aims to establish a regional hydrogen hub, a venture aimed at championing our state's move to clean energy and foster job creation. As Gov. Inslee has clarified, this is a collective application from Oregon, Washington, Lewis County and local tribes, seeking a $1 billion grant from the U.S. Department of Commerce, rather than a direct allocation to Fortescue.
Refuting the speculation of heightened electrical rates for taxpayers, PUD Commissioner Rothlin has clearly stated: "We don't want residential to subsidize industry and that you need to carry your own weight and pay your own way."
Contrary to Hadaller's claims of minimal job generation from the Fortescue hydrogen plant, the project's construction phase would create approximately 200 jobs, with an additional 35 to 60 full-time positions upon completion.
As Alliance Executive Director Richard DeBolt eloquently stated, "One of our jobs is to bring parties together. We're here to help, to assist businesses large and small. We're not a governing agency. We simply know the county, its needs and opportunities."
Our mission resonates in our vision to foster the county's economic vitality by boosting job numbers and enhancing the community's overall quality of life.
In line with our mission, we extend an olive branch. We propose hosting a community event, inviting all stakeholders, including Fortescue, the Renewable Hydrogen Alliance, Commissioner Hadaller, Commissioner Lindsey Pollock, and most importantly, our residents.
This platform will serve to lay out the facts, understand mutual benefits, and discuss any lingering apprehensions.
Our steadfast commitment is, and will always be, to Lewis County's economic prosperity, its residents and its future. We pledge to keep working transparently and collaboratively, ensuring our county's best interests are always at the forefront.
Luke Moerke is the board chair for the Economic Alliance of Lewis County and the author of this commentary. Also signing in support of the commentary are the board members, which include Stuart Cavness, Cindy Sorenson, Ben M. Kostick, Reggie Hamilton, Kirk Vigre, Bob Guenther, Bob Spahr, Dr. Bob Mohrbacher, Brandon Johnson, Jereme Chapman, JT Mundi, Mike Alexander, Paul Ericson, Samantha Magnuson, Shane Wood, Tyler McCallum, Scott Brummer, Jon Hubbert, Julie Shaffley, Cameron McGee, Chad Taylor, Dale Merten, Heidi Pehl and Darin Goss.
Editor’s note: Chad Taylor is owner and publisher of The Chronicle. Another of his businesses, The Silver Agency, has done business with the Economic Alliance of Lewis County.