Friday, December 30, 2011

Hailey turns another leaf

2011 marked by accomplishments and setbacks


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

Bowe Bergdahl

Hailey news in 2011 was dominated by problematic development proposals and a new rodeo arena that also generated controversy.

The 64th annual Days of the Old West Rodeo went off without a hitch on the Fourth of July in the new rodeo arena, which seats about 500 more people than did the previous grandstands.

Sponsored by the Sawtooth Rangers riding club, the three-day event brought from 8,000 to 9,000 spectators. Those who stuck around for the very last ride saw 21-year-old bull rider Jason Anderson, of Preston, Idaho, stay on for eight seconds. Preston was the only cowboy among 22 bull riders to go the distance, bringing down a rain of cowboy hats at the new arena.

Hailey's world-class skatepark was expanded nearby in 2011. By late summer, hundreds of new skaters took to the park's new rails, steps and ramps.

Following a successful bond issue to rebuild the Hailey rodeo grounds, it was announced that one related component would not be completed as planned: The nonprofit group Hailey Ice did not receive an expected anonymous donation of at least $800,000 to finish an ice rink on city property.

An Idaho Mountain Express poll indicated that a majority of readers thought the city of Hailey should divulge the name of the donor whose promise did not materialize, but the city leaders who know the person's identity refused to budge.

The plans are complete for the rink and the foundation has been in place for months, awaiting a big infusion of dollars to complete the structure.

The city's efforts to rebuild 2.5-mile-long Woodside Boulevard in southern Hailey stalled, despite a $3.5 million stimulus-funding grant.

Bids for the project came in at $2.3 million more than expected, sending engineers and city staffers back to the drawing board to cut corners to save the grant. By year's end, with about $1 million spent on engineering, the city devised a plan to get the project completed next summer.

The City Council drafted survey questions to test public support for general obligation bonds and other funding mechanisms to pay for other capital improvement plans in the near future.

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A student-led move to outlaw disposable plastic bags failed at the polls, but the students vowed to try again next year.

As the housing and real estate crash persisted, Old Cutters subdivision developer John Campbell made a plea to give land in his languishing development in lieu of $2.5 million in annexation fees that he owed the city. An agreement at the City Council level to take the deal later blew up, apparently due to public pressure. Campbell's development later filed for bankruptcy. Near the end of the year, he sued the city of Hailey to get out of paying the fees, which he claimed are "extortionate."

One of Campbell's lenders, Mountain West Bank, is also suing the city, claiming that agreements struck between the city and Campbell five years ago were unlawful.

Another proposed annexation in Quigley Canyon—this one with 440 homes—resurfaced after lingering in limbo at City Hall. The plan was rejected by the Planning and Zoning Commission but will be reviewed by the City Council early in 2012.

There may not yet be a big demand for new housing in Hailey, but Quigley developer Dave Hennessy has something potentially too valuable for the city to overlook: an 1880 water right that is now under appraisal for its value to the municipal water supply.

Mayor-elect Fritz Haemmerle, who takes his seat in January, replacing Rick Davis, is an attorney specializing in water rights law.

ARCH Community Housing Trust broke ground on a much-anticipated senior housing project on River Street.

Native son and captive soldier Bowe Bergdahl was reported late in the year to have escaped from his Taliban captors on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, only to be recaptured three days later. The report was a welcomed by parents Bob and Jani Bergdahl, as a sign that Bowe was alive and well.

The city of Hailey and the surrounding Wood River Valley continued to tie yellow ribbons, and hang photographs of Bowe, praying for his safe return.

Tony Evans: tevans@mtexpress.com




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