Last week, the Lewiston Tribune reported Sen. James Risch will be “there to listen” at a Nov. 23 meeting in Grangeville regarding the Lochsa Land Exchange, but no details are yet available as to the format or agenda that meeting will follow – or even its location. Risch’s office, like other federal offices, was closed for Columbus Day.
The Lochsa Land Exchange – a plan to consolidate Forest Service land holdings near the Montana state line – was mothballed two years ago, late in the tenure of former Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests supervisor Rick Brazell. Its variations called for the Forest Service to acquire the private half of the checkerboard land near Lolo Pass, where Western Pacific Timber owns every other square mile – the legacy of federal land grants to railroad companies in 1862.
Documents, maps available online
The Free Press published the proposed legislation and associated maps last year. The documents are online at http://bit.ly/1QlFtOX.
The Lolo Pass railroad was never built; the land passed from company to company. It came to WPT under Timothy Blixseth, who bought the land in 2005 and started working on a trade with the Forest Service. The Forest Service contemplated several types of trades, some of which would have touched federal land in Idaho, Clearwater, Latah and Kootenai counties. One concept would have maintained WPT’s private ownership mostly in Idaho County; another would have had the federal government buy WPT’s land rather than trade for it. The overall approach – an administrative trade – ground to a halt amid a public backlash.
In 2013, Idaho’s congressional delegation asked the Forest Service not to proceed. The Nov. 23 meeting reopens the possibility a trade could go forward through Congress, which WPT greeted as welcome news.
After the administrative process stalled, the company developed a draft of legislation it says would accomplish the trade while addressing the main concerns, and Risch’s chief of staff, John Sandy, told Tribune reporter Eric Barker: “If people want to use that for a starting point, I suppose that would be a good stepping-off point," he said. "That doesn't mean Sen. Risch supports or doesn't support that legislation in the manner it is."
The Free Press’s phone calls to Risch’s Washington D.C. office were not answered or returned last Friday, Oct. 9.
“The draft legislation is a well-developed and balanced proposal that goes at great length to address stakeholder issues,” WPT attorney Andy Hawes said Monday, Oct. 12. “This is a positive development and we look forward to participating in Senator Risch’s meeting to answer questions about the draft legislation.”