Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Bellevue takes issue with ranch stimulus

Express Staff Writer

Like many other municipalities across the country, Bellevue was hoping for relief from President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, otherwise known as the "stimulus plan."

The city lost a police officer and had to forego needed fire safety equipment this year due to the recession. The economic downturn also resulted in a decrease of library book purchases and an 8 percent across-the-board municipal spending cut to balance the city budget.

Bellevue put in for about $4.5 million of stimulus funding to pay for water and sewer system upgrades, street improvements and pedestrian walkways. So far it has received only a $9,000 bus shelter.

Nearby Crystal Creek and Spring Creek ranches, which run alongside the Big Wood River south of town, fared better. The ranches are slated for a high-end real estate development plan that includes rehabilitating riparian zones that have been degraded by ranching practices over the last century.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service received $430,000 in stimulus funding to rehabilitate about 1,700 acres of the ranches over the next year and a half. The project will employ 10 people, re-creating shallow wetlands to conserve migratory birds and a variety of sensitive wildlife species including bald eagles, great blue herons, long-billed curlews, sandhill cranes and trumpeter swans.

The properties' owners will also contribute a total $430,000 for the project.

Under a development plan with Blaine County, 1,385 acres of the ranch property will be preserved in perpetuity through a conservation easement.

But Bellevue City Administrator Tom Blanchard took issue with the stimulus funding decision last week, in light of the economic challenges facing his city, the one nearest to Crystal Creek and Spring Creek ranches.

"It's ridiculous. Bellevue is a municipality of 2,500 people that is basically starving to death," he said.

Dennis Mackey, program coordinator for the Idaho Partners for Fish and Wildlife, a subsidiary of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the restoration project is the only one out of 27 requested that received stimulus funds.

Mackay said the restoration project will "certainly" improve the value of the properties. Blaine County has granted Crystal Creek Ranch owner George Kirk preliminary approval to develop 39 residences on his property.

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