Nuke plant slander suit dismissed

From the Twin Falls Times-News

‘Scammers’ comment was opinion, not fact

By Nate Poppino
Times-News writer

A slander suit over comments on a proposed nuclear power plant in Elmore County seems to be over, with both sides declaring victory.

Alternate Energy Holdings Inc., based in Eagle, sued the Snake River Alliance for defamation in August, basing its case on an Aug. 11 Boise news broadcast in which SRA Executive Director Andrea Shipley called the company “scammers.”

On Jan. 16, just a few days before both parties were set to appear in court, 4th District Senior District Judge G.D. Carey granted a motion made by the watchdog group to dismiss the case – in which the group argued that Shipley stated her opinion, not a fact, and was protected by the First Amendment. He also told AEHI to cover its opponent’s court costs, though those are so minimal that the group won’t pursue them, said David W. Knotts, the SRA’s attorney.

On Monday, Shipley celebrated the decision as proving the frivolousness of the company’s lawsuit. But AEHI CEO Don Gillispie said the dismissal was prearranged through negotiations with the SRA, and that Shipley calling her statement an opinion amounted to a retraction of that statement.

“We think we achieved what we wanted with the lawsuit,” Gillispie said.

Knotts said Shipley’s statement was always an opinion. Her organization was fully prepared to defend itself should the case have proceeded, she said, and she in no way has retracted her statement.

“We would have proved that we were speaking truth to power, and sometimes truth hurts,” she said.

Shipley has been one of the most vocal critics of AEHI’s proposed Idaho Energy Complex, a 1,600-megawatt plant now aimed for a site near Mountain Home that the company says could be built by 2016. Officials have asked for nearly 1,400 acres of farmland to be rezoned for the plant.

The suit seemed to catch the SRA off-guard at first, and the normally talkative group said little on the matter, noting in late September that it had secured legal counsel.

In a press release issued Monday, Shipley continued to attack AEHI’s project and business methods, arguing that she thinks the company still relies on misleading public statements and doesn’t have what it needs for the project.

AEHI had sought for the group to retract the August statement and keep from making similar ones in the future. The company also sought payment for alleged damages from the statement, an unclear sum partly based on the number of potential investors who saw the story and decided not to invest.

Asked what the decision means for AEHI’s response to any future comments by the watchdog group, company spokesman Martin Johncox left the door open for possible future actions.

“That’s largely up to (the SRA),” he said. “They’re known for over-the-top rhetoric. If they have trouble controlling their mouths, they could find themselves in this same kind of position again.”

From the Twin Falls Times-News

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