Wednesday, April 30, 2014

County commissioners support projects in Sawtooth National Forest

Funds sought from Resource Advisory Committee

Express Staff Writer

Angenie McCleary

    The Blaine County commissioners on Tuesday lent their support to five proposed projects on national forest land in the county that would be funded by money distributed through the South Central Idaho Resource Advisory Committee.
    The commissioners expressed a priority for three of those projects—one to rebuild trails in the Beaver Creek Fire burn area, one to repair a section of upper Warm Springs Road and one to keep cavity-nesting birds and small animals from becoming trapped in vault toilets.
    The RACs were created to distribute money allocated through the Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000, which amended the Forest Service’s county payments program. As initially drafted, the program paid 25 percent of revenues from each national forest for projects in the counties where the national forest is located. The 2000 act authorized more money if part of it is spent on projects recommended by resource advisory committees.
    Another part of the act created the Payments in Lieu of Taxes program, which provides money to the general funds of counties that include federal land.
    The South-Central RAC covers Blaine, Camas, Cassia and Twin Falls counties.
    On Tuesday, Ketchum District Ranger Kurt Nelson described the proposed projects, which will be considered by the RAC in conjunction with proposals from ranger districts in the other three counties. He said the RAC has $120,000 to spend on all the projects.
    The Ketchum district’s proposals are:
- $12,500 to go towards a three-week-long Warm Springs Road maintenance project. The funds would be added to $90,000 worth of time from a six-person crew and equipment from the Blaine County Road and Bridge Department and $25,000 worth of time and equipment from the Sawtooth National Forest. The work would reconstruct a mile-long section of the gravel road near Frenchman’s Bend.
- $11,500 to fund crew leaders for six Northwest Youth Corps crews to rebuild trail bridges in Greenhorn Gulch from June 9 to July 11.
- $1,500 toward a $4,880 project to install screens on vent pipes on vault toilets at trailheads and campgrounds. The screens are designed to prevent birds and animals from climbing into the pipes expecting to build nests there, but which end up sliding down the pipes and becoming trapped in the toilets. The project is being carried out in partnership with local school students.
- $12,000 toward a $79,000 Mule Creek trail reconstruction project. The project would decommission 2.5 miles of the Salmon River Road past Chemeketan campground and replace it with a single-track, motorized-use trail farther from the river. The current road’s location close to and crossing the river has degraded the riparian area.
- $5,000 toward a $15,000 Lake Creek enhancement project. Proposed by Trout Unlimited’s Big Wood River project manager, Chad Chorney, the project would improve trout and sculpin habitat in upper Lake Creek, north of Ketchum. It would add woody debris to the creek and plant willows in the riparian area. Wood River Middle School science students would help with the work.
    The commissioners expressed support for all five projects, but agreed that the first two were the most important.
    “The funding for trail restoration from the Forest Service is much less than what I had expected,” Commissioner Angenie McCleary said. “It’s going to take creative solutions such as this proposal to come up with funding.”
     The commissioners also agreed that the RAC contribution would be most effective for the third project given the project’s low cost. Commissioner Larry Schoen contended that there is an obligation to reduce hazards to wildlife in man-made structures, and emphasized the project’s educational value.
    Despite the commissioners’ support for the Warm Springs Road project, Commissioner Jacob Greenberg pointed out that there is no assurance that the county Road and Bridge Department will include the road on its priority list when it draws up that list in June.
    “We’ll see what happens in May after the [road and bridge] levy passes or doesn’t pass,” he said.
    Commission Chair Schoen agreed to draft a letter to the RAC expressing the commission’s support for all five projects, but emphasizing the first three.
    The South-Central RAC will meet at the Idaho Department of Fish and Game office in Jerome on June 23 at 9 a.m. to decide on its recommendations, which will be submitted to the Sawtooth National Forest supervisor.
    Local RAC members are Chorney, former Sun Valley City Councilman Nils Ribi, who serves as committee chair, and Blaine County Recreation District Executive Director Jim Keating. A seat left open by former Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman will be filled by one of the current commissioners.
Greg Moore:

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