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For the week of Jan. 12 through Jan. 18, 2000

U.S. attorney freezes forest fee prosecutions


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

The U.S. Attorney in Boise is asking the Forest Service to review its controversial user fee program on the Payette National Forest and Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA).

Meanwhile, she told the Idaho Mountain Express, her office will freeze prosecuting fee violations.

"The program is well-intentioned in principle but problematic in application," U.S. Attorney Betty Richardson said.

The remarks of Richardson, the U.S. attorney for the Justice Department’s Idaho district, were made in a Sunday statement and in a Tuesday telephone interview.

"As it’s set up now, the program relies on the federal criminal justice system to enforce what are essentially parking tickets," she said. "In most instances, that’s an unwise use of taxpayer money, which is badly needed to fight more serious problems like fraud, drug smuggling and violent crime."

In her telephone interview she added, "I am not interested in pursuing any of these cases until the Forest Service figures out how it wants to handle these cases. I think the Forest Service needs to consider how best to enforce the program."

There are 22 pending cases that the U.S. Attorney’s office will not consider until some sort of resolution can be reached, Richardson said.

The Forest Service and U.S. Attorney officials were scheduled to meet on the issue today in Boise in an attempt to reach resolution.

Contrary to what has been reported, charges against violators were dismissed for a variety of reasons, not solely because they were against out of state persons, Richards said.

In fact, she said, considerably more Idahoans than non-residents have had their charges dismissed, and many cases were dismissed simply because the violator wrote a letter.

Richardson also noted that the vast majority of violators, Idahoans and non-residents alike, paid the required fee, either initially or after a ticket was issued.

Out of 140 cases that went as far as the U.S. Attorney’s office in Boise, 80 have been dismissed, according to Sawtooth National Forest Spokesman Ed Waldapfel. Fifteen of those involved out-of-state violators.

Many were dismissed because violators either purchased a pass or were not able to be found, he said.

"We need to take a common sense approach," Richardson said. "We ask the Forest Service to work closely with our office and with resources users to design a program that’s workable, cost-effective and fair."

Waldapfel said the Sawtooth National Forest still does not anticipate any changes to the current user fee system, but added that "we obviously need to resolve the current issue."

 

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