Friday, June 24, 2005

Keep the SNRA intact

Response to Stanley councilman

David Kimpton, a retired U.S. Forest Service employee, lives in Stanley.

As a longtime resident, community volunteer and retired Sawtooth National Recreation Area Forest Service deputy area ranger, I'd like to respond to the June 17 opinion by Stanley City Councilman Charlie Thompson. The headline on Mr. Thompson's opinion said: "Stanley needs CIEDRA (Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act) land to meet the public's needs."

Correction—these are not "CIEDRA's" lands—they are public lands belonging to all Americans.

The lands at stake are within the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA). On the SNRA, since 1972, $65 million ($7.5 million so far in 2005) has been spent by taxpayers to stop the very type of development that CIEDRA would allow.

Rep. Mike Simpson's CIEDRA bill would give away 162 acres in three parcels, most of it at Valley Creek, to the city and to Custer County for real estate and commercial development. Custer County's 86 acres above Valley Creek would be sold for trophy-home sites. No one working for wages in Stanley could afford these lots. The uplands development would harm wildlife, birds and native plants, including rare wildflowers.

The city of Stanley would be given 68 acres of SNRA land on Valley Creek and 8.3 acres at Benner Street. Thompson's guest opinion doesn't mention the fact the Valley Creek acres contain crucial elk wintering ground along Valley Creek's hot springs areas. Nor that Valley Creek is spawning and rearing habitat for wild chinook salmon and steelhead.

Mr. Thompson mentions past uses on Valley Creek. But, there's no longer "stock grazing" or fences, and the Forest Service has left for higher ground. This portion of Valley Creek has had some hard historical uses, but the mistakes of the past should not be the blueprint of the future.

The council and mayor want development on Valley Creek. Among the items being discussed: an RV park, tent campground, showers and laundry, convention center and hot springs spa. None of these are mentioned in Thompson's guest opinion.

He does state that the "old sewage lagoons would ease some of Stanley's employee housing needs." About one-fifth of the 68 acres that the city of Stanley would be given on Valley Creek formerly contained two lagoon ponds that were reclaimed in 2000, seeded with native vegetation, and are returning to a wetlands and riparian zone. Mr. Thompson doesn't mention that the water table here and on much of the 68 acres is at or just below the surface, and within the Valley Creek floodplain. It's far better habitat for ducks and geese than humans.

Mr. Thompson criticizes the SNRA for where it chose to construct employee housing. Modest homes, a camping area and other buildings are tucked into lodgepole pine forest and on glacial moraine, behind the Stanley Ranger Station, four miles south of Stanley, and are not in a "pristine meadow." I lived there for many years. The Forest Service complex does not infringe on crucial elk winter range or endangered salmon, wetlands or riparian zones. The complex is used by numerous government entities. It is obviously not, as Mr. Thompson states, "at the base of Williams Peak." Williams Peak is four miles away as the crow flies, in the Sawtooth Wilderness.

One item that needs more attention is the fact that CIEDRA would provide (Title I - Sec. 108) $500,000 to build a bicycle trail from Stanley to Redfish Lake. $500,000 is a fair chunk of money. Rather than build a bike path to be used a few months a year, the city might ask to acquire that money for other purposes—if indeed it's in such dire straits to provide public services.

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