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Current News & Issues: Wilderness


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The following article appeared in the Challis Messenger Online October 14, 2004.


Hosac proposed land exchange with City of Stanley

By Anna Means

Most people don’t mind Custer County benefiting from a wilderness bill, but some don’t want lands transferred to accomplish it. On the other hand, county leaders feel taxable land keeps on giving while Congressional appropriations eventually dry up.

And so begins the debate on the specifics of Congressman Mike Simpson’s wilderness/economic/recreation bill introduced in Congress last week.

A group of Stanley residents have started a petition drive asking Congress to pay up on the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program and forget land grants.

Approximately 1,100 acres are on the table as part of the Central Idaho Economic and Development Recreation Act (CIEDRA). The county, Stanley and Mackay stand to gain taxable acres if the bill is passed.

The Stanley group, calling themselves Central Idahoans for Accountability in Government, are particularly opposed to 960 acres in the Cape Horn area going to the county.

The group objects to these “land giveaways.” Instead, they prefer Congress pony up the full amounts allowed under the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program.

Loss of taxable lands
County Commissioners Cliff Hansen and Wayne Butts told the Messenger that Custer County has the smallest amount of taxable land in the state. More lands were lost to tax rolls when the Sawtooth National Recreation Area (SNRA) was created in the 1970s. While federal appropriations are enticing, they tend to diminish into nothing, but “taxable land goes on forever.”

Hansen said the land in question is on Dry Creek east of Cape Horn Guard Station. He said it has potential for development because there’s a road to it, power lines run across it, no streams will be affected and there are no subdivisions around to impact other property rights.

He said the land will eventually go into private hands, but there are no grand plans to create high density development. The commissioners won’t be handling the property themselves but will appoint a Land Trust Board to administer all lands acquired through CIEDRA. He said restrictions will definitely be placed on any development.

Aside from Dry Creek, the plan is to give the City of Stanley 177 acres near city limits. The county is to receive another 20 acres from BLM along the Mackay Reservoir. The City of Mackay is supposed to get 160 acres west of town from the BLM.

The Stanley group objects to development around Cape Horn, saying it is critical wildlife habitat, and development will have an unacceptable impact on elk and salmon. They would prefer Congress give a direct and permanent appropriation to the county rather than hand over land.

“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 Stanley clinic for nearly 30 years. “Sacrificing our children’s heritage and some of Idaho’s most precious places won’t fix Custer County’s problems.”

PILT was created in 1976 to pay counties for nontaxable federal lands within their borders to offset the lack of a tax base. The funding formula takes into account number of acres, but more money goes to counties with more people. Funds go directly to the county and according to County Clerk Ethel Peck, are used for operating expenses.

The money doesn’t go to the city or other taxing districts (schools, medical facilities, roads, etc.).

PILT has never been fully funded. The Stanley group would like to see that change, plus have the federal government pay the amount not funded since 1976. They figure that should give the county plenty of money to work with and keep land free from development.

They would also like PILT rules to change so it could be used for EMS services, for schools (especially a high school in Stanley) and roads. They want the formula changed so sparsely populated counties with a high percentage of public lands could get a bigger piece of the pie. Lastly, they want it changed from an annual appropriation to an entitlement indexed to inflation.

Laurel Hall, Simpson’s office, said CIEDRA was introduced in Congress last week, but they recessed shortly afterwards. That means the bill will have to be reintroduced into the Resources Committee when Congress reconvenes in January.

Hall said Simpson and staff will be discussing details and issues such as land v PILT in the interim. She said the bill introduced in January may or may not look the same once all the concerns have been hashed over.

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