Friday, April 11, 2008

CIEDRA could get hearing this year

Congressman optimistic about outcome for wilderness bill

Express Staff Writer

The White Cloud Mountains are part of a huge wilderness and economic development package called the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act. The billís architect, Congressman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, believes the bill could receive a hearing in the coming months. Photo by Mountain Express

It's been a quiet year for the largest land-use bill to come out of Central Idaho in decades.

The Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act has been sitting idle during the current congressional session. In fact, it hasn't moved since 2006 when it cleared the House of Representatives and faltered in the Senate in the waning hours of that year's session.

Meanwhile, a package of wilderness bills was dismantled late in March, and only two of the proposed five were marked up out of the House Resources Committee. CIEDRA had not been part of the dismantled wilderness bill package.

The Wild Monongahela Act, which would protect 47,000 acres in West Virginia, and Copper Salmon Wilderness Act, which would protect 13,700 acres in Oregon, were marked up by the House Resources Committee April 2.

CIEDRA's architect, Congressman Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, is nonetheless optimistic about his legislation.

"We're feeling good that the committee's going to start taking a good, solid look at CIEDRA now," said Simpson's chief of staff, Lindsay Slater, in a Wednesday telephone interview.

Slater said that optimism is based on conversations the congressman has had with members of the House Resources Committee.

"Mike's pretty optimistic that it's going to get marked up," Slater said. "He's working behind the scenes to make sure he gets it on (a hearing agenda). Now that they've got some of these other bills out of the way, we think they're going to put some time into ours."

CIEDRA is a sweeping and controversial wilderness and economic stimulus package for the Boulder and White Cloud mountain ranges as well as the communities surrounding the mountains. The bill proposes the federal designation of 318,765 acres of wilderness. It also proposes to give 5,528 acres of public land to private interests. It would create a 503,737-acre Boulder White Clouds Management Area and release 131,616 acres of wilderness study areas from consideration for wilderness designation. It also proposes $13.5 million in appropriations for construction of recreation amenities and implementation of conservation measures.

Simpson has repeatedly described the bill as consensus-oriented legislation that is balanced on a knife's edge. Slight changes could make or break the bill, and Slater said the congressman would pull the bill if it were to be altered significantly.

"We don't know anything about what kind of changes they'd want, whatsoever," Slater said. "Mike's made pretty clear to them that CIEDRA's a consensus bill. There's not a lot to change. We've got to keep it together.

"If they change the bill, Mike can make sure it doesn't go through. Mike's made the agreement that the one that everybody's agreed to is the one that goes through."

Slater said that, although optimism pervades, the timing of a hearing is unclear.

"Our goal is in the next possible markup," he said.

Simpson first introduced the concept of a new wilderness area in Central Idaho in 1999. He first introduced his CIEDRA bill to Congress in 2004.

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