Photo by David Rauzi
Idaho County Road Department supervisor Gene Meinen (left) spoke to Senator Mike Crapo (center, gesturing) during his town hall meeting trip to Grangeville last Thursday, May 28. Also pictured is (L-R) county commissioners Skip Brandt and Mark Frei.
As of Tuesday, June 2, 2015
GRANGEVILLE — “The issue isn’t public safety, it’s about ownership and unloading federal management onto the counties,” said Gene Meinen, supervisor, Idaho County Road Department.
Meinen led off discussion by county officials last Thursday, May 28, at a session with U.S. Senator Mike Crapo, focusing on a difficult situation with this year’s $7.5 million replacement of the Manning Crevice Bridge east of Riggins on the main Salmon River. With the bridge long in need of repair, and with the work nearly set to begin, the Federal Highway Administration is now saying if the county doesn’t take over bridge maintenance, it will cancel the project.
“And we already own 31 bridges we can’t keep up with anyway,” Meinen said.
Because funding cannot be obligated as part of the Federal Lands Transportation Program, the county – if it wants the project to go through – must take maintenance responsibility.
Meinen thanked the senator for the work in securing Secure Rural Schools funding – “basically, it keeps our doors open,” he said – and noted the amount needs to be increased, especially more so if the county will be made responsible for maintenance on the Manning Bridge.
“The best solution would be to repeal the program,” Senator Crapo said, but the second best and more likely work would be to apply pressure on the federal agency through Congress’s oversight function. It would be difficult to change the law, which would require not just the votes in Congress but votes to override a presidential veto. And lastly, it could warrant a legal challenge to enact change.
“I was not aware they had this authority,” Crapo said, to essentially force counties to assume such fiscal responsibilities.
Senator Crapo visited seven Idaho County communities last week as part of series of town hall meetings throughout the district to visit with constituents and local elected officials, listening to their concerns and providing updates of his activities in Washington, D.C. Meetings were held May 27-29 in Riggins, White Bird, Cottonwood, Grangeville Elk City Stites and Kooskia.
At the commission session, frustration was raised on federal regulations that can hamper or delay lands management work — “We have good Forest Service staff who are trying to do the right things but they are really frustrated; their hands are tied because of all this stuff,” said Commissioner Skip Brandt. He also commented on an Idaho Rivers United lawsuit that is disrupting a timber salvage project up the Selway, a sale that would put $1.4 million in to the state endowment fund.
“But that’s not going to be there,” he said, “and the trees in another year will be useless and kindling for the next fire.”
Commissioner Mark Frei advocated Crapo continue efforts for states’ rights, allowing for more local control, as well as efforts to improve local and state independence from reliance on federal support. As the national debt is $18 trillion and growing, “my concern is whether they’re going to be solvent,” he said. And speaking Republican to Republican, Frei noted his frustration with the party on not pushing the fight on GOP issues and core beliefs to the end.
“It seems the establishment wins out rather than principle,” Frei said. “We don’t stand on principle, instead we do what’s expedient. And that’s just killing us.”