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Current News & Issues: Wilderness


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For immediate release
Monday, October 11, 2004

Congress: fund PILT, not destroy Idaho’s precious places
Petition begins circulating in Central Idaho

For additional information:
Marie Osborn (Stanley): 774-3559
Dave Kimpton (Stanley): 774-3386

STANLEY—A group of Stanley area residents today began circulating a petition asking Congress to fully and fairly fund PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) to fund Custer County government instead of selling off and destroying critical habitat for elk and wild chinook salmon as proposed by Rep. Mike Simpson.

"This is an unacceptable impact on elk and salmon," said Dave Kimpton, elk hunter and fisherman who also volunteers as board president for the Salmon River Emergency Clinic and is a retired district ranger for the Stanley region of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA).  "We need to have a solid tax base, but you don’t want to be giving up critical wildlife habitat.  Congress already has PILT to fund county government, and needs to use that tool."

On Friday, October 8, Rep. Simpson introduced his Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA).  The bill calls for giving away over 1,000 acres on the Challis National Forest and Sawtooth National Recreation Area to be sold and subdivided.   The petition sponsors oppose these public land giveaways, and instead urge Congress to address problems with PILT.

PILT was created in 1976 to pay counties for nontaxable federal lands within their borders to help offset the local government’s tax base.  However, the funding formula favors counties with high populations, and is only being funded at about two-thirds the level allowed for by law.   In the past 5 years, Congress failed to pay Custer County over $1 million comparing the dollar figures authorized and actually appropriated.  In 2004 the Congressional PILT payment to Custer County was $391,379, as compared with the far more wealthy Blaine County that received $990,619.  

Custer County, located in central Idaho’s Salmon River country, has about 4,300 residents and covers an area of nearly 3 million acres.  Most of this, 96 percent, is federal lands making PILT payments essential for funding county government and services.   But for Custer County as other with other rural counties in the West, the PILT monies are restricted and rarely go to fund emergency medical services, roads, schools, and other essential public services.  The petition sponsors seek to change this.

"If the diagnosis is not enough money for Custer County government and services, then the remedy is to fix PILT," said Marie Osborn, the nurse practitioner who staffed the clinic in Stanley for nearly 30 years.  "Sacrificing our children’s heritage and some of Idaho’s most precious places won’t fix Custer County’s problems."

The lands targeted to be given away include nearly 1,000 acres at Cape Horn.  This area straddles the watershed divide between the Middle Fork and Main Salmon River, and includes the glorious views of the Sawtooth peaks as people travel from Boise to Stanley and first enter the Stanley Basin.  Simpson proposes that these lands would be given to Custer County, sold, and subdivided.   What are now quiet elk calving areas and salmon spawning and rearing waters would become a massive new development.

"This is one of the few native runs of salmon in the United States not contaminated by hatcheries," said Kimpton.   "Image several thousand people in these fragile meadows and marshes.  The impact on fish and wildlife will be devastating."

Stanley residents are also fearful that the land giveaways will further increase already high property taxes.  These federal lands would be sold to affluent buyers for summer palaces, driving up property taxes and likely driving out low and middle income families in the Stanley area.  

In opposing Simpson’s proposal to give away wildlife habitat, the petition offers a three-part remedy:

(1) Congress needs to provide funds directly to Custer County, including back taxes in lieu.

(2) Congress needs to reform PILT so that money can go for emergency medical services, roads and schools, including a badly needed high school in Stanley.

(3) To secure dependable funding for counties, PILT needs to change from an annual Congressional appropriation to an entitlement, which would mean guaranteed annual funding.  The funding formula needs to change so that sparsely populated, low-income counties such as Custer are more fully and fairly funded.

In addition to Marie Osborn and Dave Kimpton, the other co-sponsors are Tom Stuart, a motel owner in Stanley, and Doug and Ann Christensen, property owners at Pettit Lake.

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