Friday, August 22, 2008

Otter talks fire bill with Ketchum officials

$1.5 million still owed to Forest Service

Express Staff Writer

Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter sat down Wednesday with Ketchum Mayor Randy Hall and other city and state officials to discuss the city's ongoing payments of firefighting bills for last summer's Castle Rock Fire.

According to his office, Otter was in the Wood River Valley for the 32nd annual Danny Thompson Memorial golf tournament.

Though the Castle Rock fire was extinguished last August, its effects are still visible, from ash-covered hillsides to bills from outside fire departments for their role in aiding in the monumental effort to contain the flames.

Katie Carnduff, who works in the Ketchum city clerk's office, said the original amount owed to the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service had been estimated at $5 million. But after a meeting between fire officials from the city and different agencies this spring, the figure had been reduced to $1.6 million.

The city has already received a number of checks from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, each in the vicinity of $80,000, as reimbursement for contracts to other fire departments for their help fighting the 48,520-acre blaze.

"The governor continues to be engaged in the Castle Rock Fire issue and is making sure that everyone is following the cost-share agreement," Hall said Wednesday after meeting with Otter.

Mark Warbis, a spokesman for Otter, said the meeting came at the request of Ketchum officials.

Also present at the lunchtime rendezvous were Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, Director of the Idaho Bureau of Homeland Security Col. Bill Shawver, Ketchum City Administrator Gary Marks and both the chief and assistant chief of the Ketchum Fire Department, Mike Elle and Robbie Englehart.

According to Hall, the governor's visit was "nothing earth-shattering," but simply to ensure that the state is still taking care of the city a year after the incident took place.

"We're coming down the homestretch of getting reimbursed and getting our bills squared away," he said.

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