Western Idahoans told their lawmakers at recent town meetings in Payette and Weiser they were concerned about what a proposed nuclear power plant near Payette would mean to their quality of life.
House Speaker Lawerence Denney of Midvale said he got a lot of questions and expressions of worry about the plant at the town meetings but for the most part the issue wasn’t about nuclear power. Instead residents of this region, which likes to call itself the western Treasure Valley, feared the socio-economic impacts of a large industrial plant sited in their rural community.
I heard much the same message at the meeting MidAmerican Nuclear Energy Co. held before Christmas in Payette. That’s not to play down the impact of nuclear fears regionally and statewide on the future of the proposed plant, eventually those will be huge.
But folks in that region, including eastern Oregon residents already are experiencing the impacts of growth as residents of Boise and Canyon County move West and are turning their towns into bedroom communities. Denney also heard another reflection of their concerns about growth and change when residents expressed support for higher taxes if the money went to roads.
These residents face the same gridlock we all have when they drive to Boise. They have the same frustration, perhaps even more, when they have to plan their trips around rush hours. Unlike newcomers, they never experienced traffic like that before.
I can relate to their view. I grew up in a sleeply little farm town 60 miles west of Chicago. By the time I was in grade school it had already become a bedroom community for suburban cities.
Nuclear plants were built in the 1960s and 1970s providing high-paying jobs for my friends when we graduated from high school. But the suburban edge kept moving West toward us, changing our town from an agricultural community made up of mostly long-time families to a blue-collar town of newcomers.
Remarkably, 40 years later Sandwich, my hometown, still lies outside the suburban edge, surrounded by cornfields. But now the edge is only 8 miles away and it's only a matter of time before it begins to look like Nampa and Caldwell.
Payette and Weiser residents are now pondering whether they will face the same changes over the next two decades.