Smelter Hearings Planned

PRIEST RIVER — The Washington Department of Ecology is conducting public hearings this week on PacWest Silicon’s controversial smelter proposal.

One hearing is set for Wednesday, Sept. 19 at Newport High School and another set for Thursday, Sept. 20 at the Priest River Event Center. Both hearings run from 6-9 p.m.

There will also be an online webinar at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 27, according to Washington DOE.

PacWest Silicon plans to build a smelter on more than 180 acres at the Washington-Idaho border to produce up to 73,000 tons of silicon metal each year. The process combines quartz rock, wood chips, coal and charcoal with extremely high temperatures to produce the metal.

The hearings are part of the state’s environmental review in order to prepare an environmental impact statement to evaluate the potential effects of developing a smelter in Newport.

Members of the public are encouraged to submit written comments (sepa.ecology.commentinput.com/?id=p4CsA). The comment period closes on Thursday, Oct. 11, although Citizens Against the Newport Silicon Smelter are requesting an extension on the comment deadline.

Comms Board Status Toggled

SANDPOINT — Bonner County is changing the frequency of the Bonner County Communications Advisory Board.

The county commission unanimously adopted a resolution Tuesday to make the advisory committee on public safety communications an ad hoc committee, which will only meet on an as-needed basis or at the direction of the commission.

BCCAB was formed in 2011 and created to oversee the Bonner County Interoperability Communication Advisory Board. The board was formed to advise and provide clarity regarding public safety communications and attendant infrastructure. The commission contends the advisory board has served its purpose and the communications system and infrastructure has been sufficiently developed.

Marcus Robbins, the county’s deputy director of technology and public safety communications manager, said BCCAB helped determine where grant funding would make meaningful improvements to the system and guide decisions on interoperability.

BCCAB, for instance, aided law enforcement’s migration from ultrahigh frequency to very high frequency, the band on which other public safety disciplines communicated on.

“The switch to VHF made it possible for everybody to be interoperable,” said Robbins.

However, the commission also notes in the list of whereases that “meetings have been sporadic and poorly attended and general lacking in its original intent, no longer serving in an advisory capacity.”

The move follows an August meeting which was quite well attended and involved a spirited discussion about the possibility of charging dispatching fees to municipal police forces, fire districts and emergency medical service providers who rely on the system.

The commission and its legal counsel determined that the county has been improperly subsidizing labor costs for the dispatch center for years, which is contrary to state law. Phone user taxes are collected to fund the hardware side of public safety communications, while system users are responsible for kicking in on staffing the dispatch center, according to the county’s interpretation of Idaho Code.

The county has not decided whether it will ultimately impose dispatching fees. Other options include establishing a regional dispatch center with neighboring counties or system users creating their own dispatching apparatuses.

The prospect of dispatching fees attracted an estimated 50 people to the August meeting. City officials from Sandpoint, Ponderay and Priest River raised concerns that fees would force them to cut back on staffing. The meeting included tense exchanges between Commissioner Dan McDonald and former Commissioner Mike Nielsen. The latter urged the county not to welsh on an agreement previous county commissioners made to cover staffing costs when the county took over public safety communications for the whole county, while the former argued that the future boards could not be bound by the decisions of its predecessors, especially when those decisions are incompatible with state law.

Nielsen contends the county is downgrading the role of BCCAB because it is unable withstand the heat it took at the August BCCAB meeting.

“Rather than meet to discuss communications problems, it appears the BOCC has chosen to effectively disband BCCAB,” Nielsen said in an email.

Meanwhile, ongoing public safety communications issues are at risk of not being addressed, according to Nielsen. Those issues include representation of Priest Lake on the board, dispatchers speaking in low tones or not closely enough to the microphone, and garbled transmissions.

Nielsen also takes issue with the commission’s decision to consider collecting dispatch fees from other taxing districts, while baking in raises to their salaries in its recently adopted budget.

McDonald disputes that the August meeting was the impetus for converting BCCAB to an ad hoc committee.

“It has nothing to do with last month’s meeting. It has everything to do with a lack of participation from the various members, the lack of agenda issues and the fact that over the last year they have only had three out of the 12 meetings because of the lack of business. Those meetings were poorly attended and I believe at least on of the three didn’t even have a quorum,” McDonald said in an email.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

Seat Open on Bonner County P&Z Commission

September 11, 2018 at 5:00 am | Bonner County Daily Bee | Direct Link to Article

SANDPOINT — The Bonner County Planning & Zoning Commission has open seats in all districts.

Those interested in serving on the commission are encouraged to submit letters of interest to the Bonner County Planning Department for review and appointment by the board of county commissioners.

The deadline to submit a letter is 5 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 17.

Residents who have lived in the county for at least two years are eligible to serve on the panel. They must continue to reside here during the duration of their term.

Members are selected without respect to party affiliation and may receive mileage and per diem compensation. Members can serve two terms with further terms requiring a two-thirds vote of the board to continue.

The planning commission reviews and hears simple to complex land use applications that require reading and understanding of codes and state laws. The commission reviews and updates the county’s comprehensive land-use plan, conducts public hearings, provides means to obtain citizen participation in land-use matters, considers permit requests and code amendments.

The planning commission holds two meetings each month, with one for public hearings and another planning workshop. The meetings are typically held on the first and third Thursday of the month beginning at 5:30 p.m. Meetings are held at the Bonner County Administration Building in Sandpoint.

Letters of interest may be submitted to the Bonner County Planning Department, 1500 U.S. Highway 2, Suite 208, Sandpoint, ID. 83864.

For additional information, contact Planning Director Milton Ollerton at 208-265-1458 or planning@bonnercountyid.gov

Area Experts Debate Wildfire Issues

September 12, 2018 at 5:00 am | By MARY MALONE Staff writer | Bonner County Daily Bee

SANDPOINT — Forest management and defensible space were a common theme as a group of area fire, forestry and county experts formed a panel on Saturday to discuss the current state of wildfires in North Idaho and the surrounding region.

“Wildfire has affected everyone in this room, and by all indications, we’ll be facing more summers like this one in the future,” Jean Gerth, event organizer with 350sandpoint.org, told the approximately 50 people who attended the panel discussion.

“Planning now, and building on what we have in place, will help protect firefighters, our property and our health. My hope is that everyone here will leave with an idea of their next step in planning for that future … We are beyond wanting to just talk about this.”

The discussion, “Fired Up: Planning for Wildfire in Bonner County,” was hosted by 350sandpoint.org in the Sandpoint branch of the East Bonner County Library District. Panelists included Nate Rogers, Idaho Department of Lands fire marshal; Matt Butler, fire management officer for the U.S. Forest Service in the Idaho Panhandle; Bob Howard, director of Bonner County Emergency Management; Vernon Roof, Northside Fire commissioner; Jeff Connelly, Bonner County commissioner; Milton Ollerton, Bonner County planner; and Erin Mader, communications for Idaho Forest Group.

Each panelist was tasked with answering specific questions, including what their role is in fire response, how they coordinate with other agencies and whether their agency has the resources to respond adequately to wildfire.

One of the biggest advantages for fire departments and other agencies, as noted by several of the panelists, is agreements and memorandums of understanding with other agencies outside of their jurisdiction to come in and help when needed. While many departments are equipped to deal with small fires, none are equipped to deal with the fires that spread to hundreds or thousands of acres. IDL and USFS, for example, assist local agencies with fire response and resources.

“The problem we run into is when the whole United States gets extremely busy … then there is a lack of resources nationally, and that is what we are starting to see,” Butler said.

As a local district, Roof said Northside firefighters are the first responders when a fire happens within Northside’s jurisdiction. Because it is a small department, he said they have “very good” mutual aid agreements with other local agencies, such as Selkirk Fire, Sam Owen and Clark Fork.

“We try to have a mutual aid matrix in place because we realize we just do not have the people to handle every single circumstance,” Roof said.

He also reiterated, a few times, that the department can always use volunteers.

It is not only the fire departments and agencies who respond to fires that work together during wildfires. Howard said Bonner County Emergency Management plays a support role to all fire agencies, local, federal and state. For example, he said, they are the “eyes and ears” for the county commissioners and the community. They also get disaster declaration approval when needed, and apply for grants for fire management assistance if needed, he said.

“We coordinate with all public safety agencies — state, federal, the entire spectrum,” Howard said.

Mader noted that, while IFG does not play a role in fire response, it does play a role in fire prevention.

Mader said there is about four times the amount of trees per acre than there was historically, because fire is prevented from moving through the acreage to clean out the smaller trees and allow the bigger trees room to get the light and water they need to survive. Between that and insects, the forests are not healthy, she said.

“As time moves on, we are seeing more and more forests, more trees, dying, and less healthy growth,” Mader said. “There is all kinds of side effects of that, and one of them is you are kind of setting up a situation where things are going to burn easier and faster … managing your forest is one way to get around that.”

As for defensible space for property owners, Connelly said the county’s BONFire program has done “a lot of work in Bonner County” and continues to be very successful at reducing fuel hazards around homes. The program aims to help property owners create defensible space and provide them with information and educational tools to protect their home or business from wildfire.

“You are not always going to make yourself fire safe,” Connelly said. “The conditions will control that … Let’s not kid ourselves into thinking we can completely cure this; we can help prevent it, that’s what we can do.

Ollerton said there is “a lot of benefit” that can come from conversations such as the one on Saturday, especially as the county works with the community to create plans for fire protection. For instance, he said, there are grants available for property owners to create defensible space around their homes.

“There are lots of opportunities to address this, we just need to start having the conversation,” Ollerton said.

Homes with a defensible space are also safer for firefighters in the event of a fire, and will be the first homes the firefighters will attempt to save, agreed Butler and Rogers.

“We are not going to put our folks in areas where they are going to fail,” Rogers said.

As the panel discussion came to a close, Gerth said 350sandpoint.org plans to host similar discussions in the future, in an attempt to get people to take action.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

Dispatch Fee Proposal Stirs Unease

August 23, 2018 at 5:00 am | By Keith Kinnaird | Bonner County Daily Bee – Direct Link to Article

SANDPOINT — Bonner County’s plan to offload the financial burden of dispatching fees is causing alarm among cities and fire districts.

County commissioners unveiled a suite of proposals earlier this month aimed at spreading the $3.4 million burden among the public safety agencies who rely on Bonner Dispatch. The proposals include having agencies pay fees according to call volumes, having agencies set up their own dispatch centers or establishing a regional dispatch center along with other counties.

Commissioner Dan McDonald said the county has been illegally bearing the brunt of the burden for years. But Clerk Michael Rosedale determined that Idaho law requires system users to contribute to the operation and staffing of the county dispatch center.

McDonald said Rosedale’s interpretation of the law has been vetted by the county’s legal counsel and is also being reviewed by the Idaho Attorney General’s Office.

“What we’ve been doing for 20 years is illegal,” McDonald told city, fire and emergency responders during a Bonner County Communications Advisory Board meeting on Aug. 9.

The news was not greeted warmly.

“This is going to be very detrimental to our city,” Ponderay Mayor Steve Geiger said.

Geiger said the nearly $100,000 fee that would be charged to the city would likely force it to cut two officer positions in a department that’s already relatively small.

Priest River Mayor Jim Martin said his city would face similar personnel cuts if the county insisted on charging fees. Martin estimated that 15 percent of the police department’s budget would be consumed by dispatch fees.

“We’re down to the chief and one person,” Martin said of a post-fee reality.

Jennifer Stapleton, the city of Sandpoint’s administrator, said the costs would be unsustainable.

“We have one of the larger budgets. Our police department couldn’t absorb this cost and neither could our fire department,” she said.

Some agencies felt blindsided by the county’s proposals, but McDonald emphasized that they were meant to start a conversation that leads to a solution.

“We’re not looking to impose anything this year. One of the reasons we’re having the conversation now is so that everybody can start digesting this and start talking about it,” McDonald said.

But Mike Nielsen of Priest Lake Search & Rescue pointed out that the new approach overlooks an ongoing arrangement in Bonner County in which the county provides centralized dispatch services in exchange for additional radio frequencies and all of the emergency communications funding provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“Don’t welsh on the deal that was made with the members of this group,” Nielsen said.

Affordable Housing Struggle Pondered

August 16, 2018 at 5:00 am | By MARY MALONE Staff writer | Bonner County Daily Bee – Direct Link to Article

SANDPOINT — With roughly half the residents in Sandpoint living with unaffordable housing, “missing middle” housing may be the answer.

“Housing affordability is an issue,” said Sandpoint planning and economic development director Aaron Qualls, during the Greater Sandpoint Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Aug. 9. “The way it’s measured, the federal standard, is if you spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing, it’s considered unaffordable. So by that standard, Sandpoint is way above the national average in unaffordability.”

According to recent census data, Idaho is the fastest growing state in the nation, Qualls said. In addition, Sandpoint is the seventh fastest growing “micropolitan” area in the country, he said, and the fastest growing in the state.

Permitting trends are up in Sandpoint, Qualls said, with record breaking numbers for single family housing in 2016. With the addition of the Milltown Apartments, multifamily trends are up well. Those 123 units, more than half of which include a mix of senior and low-income housing apartments, were all rented out before the buildings were fully constructed.

“So that gives you a sense of the housing demand,” Qualls said.

Subdivisions that lay dormant for several years also began filling up with homes in recent years, he said. Much of the growth in Sandpoint stems from retirees, as well as millenials.

Census data indicates the median home value in Sandpoint is $200,000. However, Qualls said more recent data from real estate websites indicates the value is closer to $240,000. With a conventional mortgage at 4.5 percent, a person would need to make approximately $50,000 a year to afford a $240,000 home. More than 60 percent of Sandpoint households make less than $50,000, and the median income in is $34,000, Qualls said.

Qualls said he has been looking at ways to encourage “missing middle” housing, which is not the low density single-family units or the high density multifamily units — it is everything in between. This includes duplexes, triplexes and multiplexes, he said.

“If you walk around south Sandpoint, you notice there are a variety of home types,” Qualls said. “There’s larger homes, there’s smaller homes, there’s a variety of duplexes. If designed right (missing middle housing) would fit well within the existing neighborhood pattern.”

The market, however, is swayed toward single-family homes, he said. The city has also seen an uptick in accessory dwelling units, which are small units attached to or on the property of a single-family home. The city made some updates to its zoning ordinance to allow for more “missing middle” housing, he said, but have not seen many developers take advantage of it. This includes cottage housing, Qualls said, which allows for more density on a parcel of land.

Qualls said four cities in the county have created the Bonner Regional Team for collaboration efforts, and one of the focus areas of the group is housing.

“That’s really important, because this is a regional problem,” Qualls said. “It’s going to take collaboration figuring out how many units we need, where should they go, how are we going to grow, maintain our quality of life, maintain our levels of service, not saddle taxpayers with too much of a tax burden to support the infrastructure … It’s very complex, but we are beginning those conversations — or renewing those conversations, I should say.”

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

Medicaid Expansion Tour Kicks Off

August 14, 2018 at 5:00 am | By MARY MALONE Staff writer | Bonner County Daily Bee – Direct Link to Article

SANDPOINT — It was little more than a year ago when Luke Mayville came back to his hometown of Sandpoint to organize a door-to-door campaign advocating for local schools.

On Monday, he was back in town for another door-to-door campaign, but for a different reason.

“The goal is to talk with voters about the Medicaid expansion ballot initiative, and how important it is to vote yes for Medicaid expansion in November,” Mayville said.

Since that first campaign in March 2017 to garner votes in favor of the Lake Pend Oreille School District’s supplemental levy, Mayville co-founded Reclaim Idaho with a quest to get Medicaid expansion passed in Idaho. After months of campaigning, Mayville, along with Reclaim Idaho co-founder Garrett Strizich and many volunteers across the state, collected enough signatures to put Medicaid expansion on the November ballot.

The door-to-door initiative in Sandpoint on Monday kicked off the latest state tour for the Reclaim Idaho team. When Mayville first spoke with the Daily Bee in 2017 in regards to the levy, he said he was following the mantra, “door to door wins the war.” He continues to follow that mantra as his team will meet up with volunteers in 20 Idaho communities over the course of 20 days to talk with voters about Medicaid expansion. And it was 20 local volunteers who met up with Mayville at Evans Brothers Coffee Roasters to help out with the door-to-door campaign.

The overarching reason for the effort, Mayville said, is that 62,000 Idahoans are currently without health care because they fall into the coverage gap. This means they make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for Your Health Idaho, the state’s health insurance exchange created under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“By voting yes for Medicaid expansion, we would cover those 62,000 people with health insurance” he said. “And we would cover them by bringing back millions of federal tax dollars into Idaho. These are tax dollars that we are already paying for through our federal taxes each year. Voting yes for Medicaid expansion would bring back those tax dollars. It would result in net savings for the Idaho economy and create up to 12,000 new jobs for Idaho. So the bottom line is that Medicaid expansion is the morally compassionate thing to do, and also the fiscally responsible thing to do.”

The Reclaim Idaho team recently joined forces with another group, Idahoans for Healthcare. With that, Mayville said the Idaho business community and the medical community came together, with legislators from both sides of the political spectrum expressing support of the initiative.

“As we continue to go around the state, we see support growing and growing among voters, so it’s going really well,” he said.

Mayville said it was important to the Reclaim Idaho team to kick off the 20-day tour in Sandpoint, as it is where it all began. It was the first Sandpoint volunteers, the ones who helped with the LPOSD levy campaign, who became the core of the Medicaid expansion effort, he said.

“And then that cascaded across the state, town by town, to the point where we have versions of our Sandpoint team in about 20 different places across the state,” he said.

Mary Malone can be reached by email at mmalone@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @MaryDailyBee.

 

Code Reform Hearing Today

SANDPOINT — A series of controversial amendments to Bonner County’s land use code are being taken up by county commissioners today.

The board is holding a public hearing on the code changes at 2:30 p.m. at the Bonner County Administration Building.

The changes include increasing administrative exceptions from 1 foot to 10 percent on setbacks. An increase from 2 percent to 5 percent on lot sizes and subdivision standards is also being proposed.

The code changes would also create administrative variances of up 30 percent.

This process, once noticing requirements are met, allows the planning director to administratively approve a variance or require the request to be channeled through the typical variance process.

Variances greater than 30 percent would be subject to the normal variance process.

A third proposed code change involves conditional certificates of compliance. It would move the date for which a parcel may legally exist to the adoption date of last major land use code rewrite (Nov. 18, 2008).

The certificate of compliance amendment has drawn significant criticism as a form of amnesty for thousands of divisions of land that were done illegally.

“It will potentially add density around the county with no provision for human waste, water, fire protection or roads,” Steve Lockwood said in a social media posting to his campaign supporters

Lockwood, A Democrat, is challenging incumbent Republican Commissioner Dan McDonald for his seat on the board.

The code changes are part of an ongoing effort by county commissioners to ease the regulatory burden on landowners, although critics of the code changes contend they are watering down standards that protect water quality and design standards.

http://www.bonnercountydailybee.com/local_news/20180613/code_reform_hearing_today

Board Candidates Debate Issues

SANDPOINT — Candidate seeking seats on the Bonner County commission held forth on a wide range of topics during the Selkirk Association of Realtors campaign forum on Wednesday.

Candidates seeking the district 1 and 3 seats covered a lot of ground during the forum — from the proposed silicon smelter in Newport and land use code reform to self insurance and management of federal lands in Idaho.

Voters cast ballots on county commissioner seats regardless of whether they reside in a particular district that’s up for election.

In the District 1 contest, incumbent Republican Commission Chairman Glen Bailey is fending off challenges by Steven Bradshaw and Gary Hollett for the GOP nomination. The winner of that race will move on to face Democrat Patricia Wentworth.

Bailey, a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, has held office for five years and the board’s effort shows in the state of the county’s finances. He said county employees are doing well, although they are increasingly sought after by governments in Kootenai and Spokane counties, which can offer higher salaries.

“Bonner County has to keep up with that,” said Bailey.

Bradshaw is billing himself as a staunch property rights advocate who is willing to entirely dismantle land use regulation in Bonner County.

“I would disassemble it and sell it in a garage sale,” Bradshaw said of planning and zoning.

Hollett did not attend the forum.

Wentworth admitted she lacked political experience, but has a business management background and a solid record of volunteering in the community. A couple candidates likened the job as commissioner as a CEO during the forum.

“I am familiar with the structure of business,” said Wentworth, who also advocates for increased eduction funding, closing the Medicare gap and improving average wages in Idaho, which she said Idaho is dead last in.

Wentworth also questioned the wisdom the smelter proposal, as did Steve Lockwood, a Democrat who is seeking his party’s nomination for the District 3 seat.

“Health comes first. Air quality is as fundamental as anything we have,” said Lockwood, a retired manager who spent more than 30 years with Bell and AT&T.

But incumbent Republican District 3 incumbent Dan McDonald said commissioners were effectively powerless to stop the smelter because it’s a Washington state project.

“I do know what the county can do and it is nothing,” said McDonald.

Fiscal responsibility was a recurring theme during the forum. McDonald said the commission managed to slash $8 million from the budget without sacrificing services. That figure has been disputed, although McDonald said that sum has been vetted by county Clerk Michael Rosedale.

“Without sound fiscal policy for the county, everything falls to the wayside pretty quick,” said McDonald.

Carol Kunzeman, who is challenging McDonald for the GOP nod for the District 3 seat, emphasized her established record of 13 years of public service, eight of which were as Ponderay’s mayor.

“I know how to bring diverse groups to the table,” said Kunzeman, who has handled multi-billion dollar budgets in her former employment as a defense contractor.

McDonald is a strong proponent of state management of federal lands in Idaho, as is Bradshaw.

“I’m for any kind of management that takes the federal government out of it,” said Bradshaw, who also boasted a business background in Texas.

Wentworth doubted the state had the financial ability to carry out such a task, while Bailey said groups such as a the Panhandle Forest Collaborative is effective at bringing diverse viewpoints together so timber can still be harvested.

McDonald and Bailey defended the county’s recent decision to insure itself, which increases liability coverage and reduced premium costs.

“I am not into risk-taking,” said Bailey.

Kunzeman expressed concern, however.

“I am worried about a catastrophic event which could bankrupt the county,” she said, adding that the decision needs further scrutiny.

Lockwood agreed.

“I think it deserves a really hard look,” said Lockwood.

Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at kkinnaird@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.

Bonner County Zoning Changes

Unpleasant surprises may face many Bonner County landowners. The County is considering undermining 27 years of countywide zoning by allowing illegally created parcels created before November 18, 2008 to be lawful through “amnesty.”

This waives 27 years of zoning standards, like lot size minimums, and 13 years of subdivision standards, like the need to plat. Your neighborhood may change without notice as you welcome neighbors to lots you thought were too small to develop. This “amnesty” is unfair to those who followed the rules. For example: A 20 acre parcel zoned Agricultural since 1981 with a 10 acre minimum was split into four 5 acre properties, violating the lot size minimum without going through the subdivision process, would now become legal.

Folks that bought into a neighborhood in rural Bonner County thinking they were moving into an agricultural area now find that this isn’t going to be the case because neighboring lots will be smaller.

The code proposal would affect property owners and jurisdictions county-wide. A fire district that has staffed for homes on 10 acre lots, could find itself serving many more property owners, with no advance notice. Roads may not be properly sized. Water and sewer districts may be overextended.

The Planning Commission will hold a public hearing for this proposal BCRC 12-616 on Thursday, April 5, at 5:30 pm at the County Administrative Building, 1500 Highway 2.