If you happen to know David Bailey, John Browder, David Dineen, David Koehler, Tom LeClaire, Julia Rose Pierko or John Seidl, be sure to thank them.
You probably don’t know them, in political circles. They labor in volunteer obscurity, serving on the Ada County Planning and Zoning Commission. They serve because they were appointed by county commissioners — an irony that will become apparent momentarily.
But thanks to the planning and zoning commission, county residents will finally have a say on Dynamis — the stealth waste-to-energy project proposed for the landfill. The commission has scheduled a Nov. 8 public hearing.
Good for the planning and zoning commission. But I just can’t shake the feeling that, through no fault of its own, its decision won’t accomplish very much.
It pains me to say that. I believe, after all, that public involvement is a good thing, a vital thing. I believe, too, that elections have consequences, for better or for worse.
But can I really say that, with conviction, about Dynamis, and the upcoming Ada County commission elections? I wish I could. But I can’t, with any confidence.
At the same time the planning and zoning commission is trying to slow down the Dynamis debacle, two of the county’s three elected commissioners are bent on ramming this project through.
And it isn’t even a fair fight. The planning and zoning commission is an advisory group. A group that advises the county commissioners — including Sharon Ullman and Rick Yzaguirre, the best elected friends this much-maligned project could ever hope for. Advising Ullman and Yzaguirre to slow down on Dynamis is like advising water to stop being wet.
On Tuesday, the Ullman and Yzaguirre show was back in full force, approving a lease agreement to allow Dynamis to built on 10 acres at the landfill. They also designated the area an industrial park — a gambit, said dissenting Commissioner David Case, to bring the lease agreement into compliance with state law.
So, will the Nov. 8 public hearing really matter? And what about the election, two days earlier?
In theory, the commission races will shift the balance of power on the Dynamis issue. The four candidates for two commission seats — Case and Thomas Howell, Larry Rincover and Jim Tibbs — all express reservations about the project, the process, or both. Either the Republican Case or the Democratic Howell will replace Ullman, whom Case defeated in the GOP primary. And, in turn, either the Democratic Rincover or the Republican Tibbs will assume the position spot now held by Case. That would seem to leave Yzaguirre outnumbered.
Maybe. But even the commission candidates are unsure how much, or how little, they would be able to roll back this project.
This is what they inherit:
• A week after Ullman’s primary loss, she and Yzaguirre extended Dynamis’ operating contract at the landfill to 30 years. That’s no small matter; if the newcomer commissioners vote to sever this deal, they invite a lawsuit from Dynamis.
• Tuesday’s lease agreement is also a big, rushed deal, a precursor both to obtaining a state air quality permit and starting construction. Dynamis is under a deadline — the company has an agreement to begin producing electricity for Idaho Power by February 2014. So is Ullman, who leaves office at year’s end and is, evidently, no longer encumbered by concerns over public opposition to Dynamis.
Regardless of who they pick, I believe Ada County voters will elect two commissioners who will try to do the right thing on Dynamis. Case, Howell and Rincover are flatout opposed. Says Rincover: “The Dynamis contract should be terminated with prejudice immediately.” Tibbs isn’t quite there — he has unanswered questions and, if elected, would actually like to meet with Dynamis — but, as he told the Statesman editorial board, he’s a solid skeptic. “I’m an old cop. You prove it to me.”
But a lot can happen in two months, a lot that may not be easily undone.
I’ll always defend public officials who try to do right by the public, even when the odds are stacked against doing the right thing. When Secretary of State Ben Ysursa battles against time — and battles against many in his own party — in a quest to find out who is contributing money defend or oppose Propositions 1, 2 and 3, he deserves all the public praise that comes his way.
Same for the planning and zoning commission. When this Dynamis saga finally draws to a close, the list of the good guys will include the seven members of the planning and zoning commission.
I just hope their good fight isn’t in vain.