Friday, January 13, 2006

CIEDRA won't include quarry sale

Simpson tweaks wilderness bill

Express Staff Writer

The sale of a stone quarry near Challis in Custer County will not be included in the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, according to Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson, the bill's creator.

The announcement was just another in a long line of tightrope decisions regarding the bill, known as CIEDRA.

Simpson said his decision to exclude the quarry sale was based on the fragile nature of the bill, which over the past six years has been carefully crafted by compromise.

"As I have said many times during the CIEDRA legislative process, (this) is a finely tuned bill that is based on many compromises and considerations," Simpson said earlier this week. "The constructive feedback I have received over the past three weeks has made it apparent to me that including the quarry would tip the balance for many of those who have been working towards the overall goals of CIEDRA."

The bill would designate 300,011 acres in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains as wilderness. In exchange, Custer County, which is comprised of 96 percent federal land and subsequently struggling to stay afloat, would be given between 2,000 and 6,000 acres of public land for development purposes.

Some off-road-vehicle trails would also be allowed to remain open and will bisect sections of the wilderness area.

Lumping the sale of the quarry into the bill was generating additional heat from traditional wilderness supporters. Many lifelong conservationists are opposed to CIEDRA because of its concessions to Custer County.

The quarry would have been sold to L&W Stone, which is the current operator.

L&W Stone's owner, Scott Laine, of California, has donated several thousand dollars to the Republican Party, including about $3,000 to Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho. Critics of the sale claim the quarry would be able to bypass certain environmental regulations if it were passed into private hands.

Lyndsay Slater, Simpson's chief of staff, claims that is not the case.

Slater said if the quarry was privately owned it would likely override current court-ordered environmental regulations, but "there will be no less protections and they will still have to follow all of the environmental laws."

Slater added that Simpson still wants to sell the quarry, just not as a part of CIEDRA.

"Essentially, through private ownership, the quarry has a better chance of being a long-term viable quarry in Custer County," he said.

The quarry is the county's second largest employer, with 80 employees. If it were to ever close, "it would be devastating," Custer County Commissioner Lin Hintze said.

Linn Kincannon, Central Idaho director of the Idaho Conservation League, and a supporter of CIEDRA, said Simpson's decision to exclude the quarry sale was a "good thing."

If it had been included, "it would have made it more difficult for us, and other people, to support the bill," she said. "We recognize that Mike Simpson is trying to create a balanced bill that can pass."

CIEDRA is expected to receive a full congressional hearing in February.

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