Grays Harbor County Commissioner Mike Murphy, a tall, former college football player now in his 30s, likes to give visitors a one-hour "nuclear tour."
He feels it is a fast way for them to understand the impact on a county of 66,000 people when the nuclear construction industry moves in to build two atomic power plants.
"Their initial studies on the impact on our schools, our roads, our sewers was that this would bring in 2,700 workers. Now the estimates are for 5,300," he said.
Murphy had parked the county car on a site overlooking a vast, cleared area where two of Washington state's five new reactors are going in. A crane several hundred feet high was being used to build one of the two reactor containers. The round base of the giant cooling tower, looking like the superstructure of an athletic stadium, was in place nearby and hundreds of trucks were parked here and there.
"They scalped this mountain," said Murphy. "Then the rains washed away the sides two winters ago, and filled the fishing streams down below with silt. The streams have been ruined for salmon fishing.
"Every farmer around here tried to tell them the sides of the hills would wash out, but they didn't listen," he said.
In the valley below, several 30-foot-deep lakes have been created where farmland used to be. They are the holes left by the construction companies after digging for gravel.
"Initially they said they wouldn't need gravel. Now they want permission to go down another 50 feet," said Murphy. At times, the construction companies have more than 1,000 truckloads of gravelvel a day to the building site. Murphy said when he went to investigate complaints from local residents about noise, flying rocks and broken windshield, his own car windshield was broken by a rock kicked up by a truck.
"The nuclear industry gets treated different from others. When they need money they go to Olympia or Washington," he said.
The engineers are now debating how to bring the two 900-ton reactors to the site. County roads and bridges are not strong enough to hold the loads. Consideration is being given to building a railroad spur on which to haul them at a cost of $17 million. A 75-yard-wide railroad right of way has been cleared through the forest for the one-time operation.
Murphy concedes that the project has raised real estate values and brought money into the county, but he worries about the county becoming a "depressed area" after the project is finished.