The city of Stanley has altered its position on the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act following an emergency public meeting on the contentious wilderness legislation last Sunday.
Based on public comment collected at the meeting, the city withdrew its outright support for CIEDRA in exchange for a neutral stance.
However, the city still wants the 76 acres of Sawtooth National Recreation Area land it's promised to receive as part of the bill's lengthy list of concessions to Custer County and its municipalities.
The changes were spearheaded by City Councilmen Sean Tajkowski and Charlie Briggs and were fueled by concerns that the majority of their constituents no longer support the bill, which has undergone changes in the last several months. One of those changes is that Stanley will be required to pay the federal government $340,000 for the SNRA land, which has been earmarked for home sites.
"It's my duty to represent the individuals in the community," Tajkowksi said. "What's most important is that the citizens are heard on their concerns."
Tajkowksi and Briggs drafted a resolution last month that attempted to fully withdraw support for CIEDRA, which is scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Energy Committee's Subcommittee on Public Lands Sept. 27. The two councilmen had become embroiled in a dispute with Stanley Mayor Hannah Stauts and Councilman Charlie Thompson in August after Stauts and Thompson met with U.S. Sen. Larry Craig to discuss CIEDRA.
Craig, R-Idaho, chairs the Senate Energy Committee's Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forest Health.
Tajkowski claims Stauts and Thompson are overwhelmingly in favor of CIEDRA, and accused both of pushing their agenda on Craig, who has yet to issue a public opinion on the bill. Stauts and Thompson have both denied the allegations.
On Sunday, the resolution, known as 110, was revised following the testimony of about 15 Stanley and Custer County residents and Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman. A total of about 40 people attended the meeting. Two prior resolutions were also amended to reflect the perceived change in public consensus.
"We support the identification, transfer of ownership and deed restrictions on the two identified parcels of land—parcels A and C—to be included in CIEDRA federal lands transfer to the city of Stanley and to explicitly state that parcel C be used for affordable housing and/or city infrastructure," Resolution 110 states. "We take no official position regarding the other provisions of CIEDRA in its current form."
Tajkowski said he hopes to arrange a meeting with Craig and the Stanley City Council to address additional concerns prior to the Sept. 27 hearing.
"The public overwhelmingly was involved in this process," Tajkowksi said. "We came together and made a real compromise between each other."
Of the 15 people who spoke at the meeting, nine expressed support or took a neutral position on CIEDRA, which would designate 319,900 acres of wilderness in the Boulder-White Clouds mountains. Six people were outright opposed to the legislation, although about 20 people expressed their opposition via applause near the end of the meeting.
About 100 people permanently reside in Stanley, which is wedged between the towering, jagged peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains and the vast and scenic Boulder-White Clouds.
Those opposed to the bill Sunday included local business owners who feel wilderness designation would harm the local economy; snowmobile and motorized recreation enthusiasts who don't want to lose access to their traditional stomping grounds; and former Sawtooth National Recreation Area land managers who have a laundry list of concerns.
"I'm passionately opposed to CIEDRA," said Gary Gadwa, a former Idaho Fish and Game conservation officer stationed in Stanley from 1978 to 2005. Gadwa claims he's been "assaulted and insulted" and has had shots fired at his house due to his stern opposition.
One of 15 former SNRA land managers opposed to the bill, Gadwa claims CIEDRA contradicts the Wilderness Act of 1964, is under-funded and will cost taxpayers $173 million, and concedes too much to the motorized community.
Furthermore, the public land giveaways in the bill, which total more than 5,000 acres—mostly to Custer County and its municipalities—are "particularly disturbing," according to testimony sent to Craig by the former SNRA land managers earlier this month.
Supporters of CIEDRA, even those opposed to the land giveaways, argue that the 76 acres of SNRA land slated for Stanley is a minimal chunk in the grand scheme and could provide an economic boost to the city and county. The land would be occupied by homes to help boost property taxes. Custer County is composed of 96 percent public land, most of that federal.
Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman, who issued a neutral stance on the bill, cautioned the Stanley City Council that withdrawing support from the bill at this point could harm future relations with Idaho's elected officials. He also noted that CIEDRA "could pass regardless of how you vote."
Stanley resident Chris Proctor said he doesn't care whether wilderness is designated in the Boulder-White Clouds or not.
"I hike and ski in the Boulder-White Clouds," he said. "I'll continue to hike and ski there whether it's wilderness or not."
But he urged the council to "look at the bigger picture."
Proctor said when he moved to Stanley a few years ago he was sure he could survive in a tent. When the temperature dipped into the single digits in September, he knew he'd have to find housing, or leave the area.
"That started the housing issue for me," said Proctor, who feels that an influx of affordable housing would greatly benefit the city.
"Stanley would be positively economically impacted by this bill," he added. "There will be negative consequences in Stanley if you pull support for this bill without specific reasons why."
Lynne Stone, Bob Hayes and Paul Hill all echoed Proctor's comments. Stone is the director of the Boulder-White Clouds Council, which has been fighting for wilderness distinction in those mountains for 25 years. Hayes is the president and executive director of the Sawtooth Society, which since its inception in 1997 has invested more than $400,000 to improve the infrastructure needs of the SNRA.
Stone said she was fearful that the resolution would pass under mounting pressure from the snowmobile community.
"I was real nervous," she said. "Thankfully, there was Tom Bowman, Paul and Ann Hill, Bob Hayes—some real reasonable people who I thought spoke so well and honestly and I think it registered."
Cliff Hansen, a commissioner from Custer County, which is supporting the bill, said he didn't agree with the council's direction but he would "pass the word along."
In front of the entire crowd, Stone asked Hansen whether Custer County would take the 76 acres promised for Stanley if the city withdrew its support for the bill.
"Yes, we would," he said.