Friday, December 8, 2006

CIEDRA running out of time, options

Congressional session expected to end today

Express Staff Writer

A portion of the Boulder Mountains, above, would be designated as wilderness with the passage of the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act.

Time and options are running out for the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act, and the prospect of securing Idaho's first wilderness designation in 26 years is slipping away.

The bill, crafted by Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, is sitting in limbo in the Senate with Congress' lame duck session expected to conclude today.

If not attached to another piece of legislation before Congress adjourns, the bill, which has been in the works for close to eight years and passed the House in July, would have to start over again in the House Resources Committee when Congress reconvenes next year.

"It's not moving; nothing's moving," Lindsay Slater, Simpson's chief of staff, said Wednesday. "That doesn't mean nothing will move. It is something that could change. We could wake up tomorrow and find out it got on something. It's not over yet."

But it's not looking good.

By nature, CIEDRA has always been in a somewhat precarious position, attempting to balance the interests of wilderness supporters and opponents. In exchange for designating as wilderness 319,900 acres in the Boulder and White Cloud mountains north of Ketchum, the bill would transfer more than 5,000 acres of federally owned land to Custer County and its cities. Additionally, a 960-acre parcel of land owned by the Bureau of Land Management near Boise would be given to the state for the creation of a new off-road-vehicle park.

The concessions have polarized the environmental community, sparking vehement opposition from a number of traditional wilderness advocates and former public land managers.

Last week, the bill became further entrenched between a rock and a hard place when Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, demanded that the concessions be delivered up front. Simpson told The Associated Press that Craig's demand is a "nonstarter" since environmentalists who helped craft the compromise have never recognized such conditions.

Meanwhile, Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., urged the House to vote against the bill in July, saying the concessions "cheapened" the wilderness designation process.

Rahall is expected to chair the House Resources Committee when the Democrats take over control of Congress next year.

"I'm kind of between a rock and a hard place," Simpson told the AP. "The more I move to what Larry Craig will accept, the more I move from what Nick Rahall wants. The more I move to what Nick Rahall will accept, the more I move from what Larry Craig wants."

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tennessee, said CIEDRA has little chance of being attached as a rider to a spending measure since the Senate will likely pass only temporary budget measures with no amendments.

"He's just giving up and closing up shop," Simpson said about Frist.

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