GRANGEVILLE Public land use and access, solid waste, fiscal responsibility and need for new ideas are issues being raised in the race between Republicans Rusty Bennett and Mark Frei for the Idaho County Commission.
Bennett will be challenging first-term incumbent Frei in the race for the four-year-term District 2 position in the May 17 primary election. The commission position makes an annual $24,424 salary.
Bennett’s focus, as commissioner, would be to give Idaho County residents a voice in their local government, to represent their concerns in decisions affecting them from retaining public lands access to solid waste, and improve transparency of the process.
Bennett is semi-retired, having worked in a varieties of vocations including ranching, logging, construction and back country guide. He and his wife, Lisa, live in the Big Butte/Wynona area, and they have between them five grown children.
“I have yet to talk to anyone who is personally for it,” Bennett said regarding the Upper Lochsa land exchange proposal. Residents are not convinced, were the swap to go through, that public access would continue under Western Pacific Timber. For Bennett, those lands to be affected are the literal backyards of many for recreation who have enjoyed these areas for years, including himself. Once traded, that is gone forever, he said.
“We need to keep our public lands public,” he said, advocating that the commission should be pressuring the Forest Service to find another option.
Bennett is opposed to current commission efforts on new solid waste fee assessments, and also a proposed mega dumpster site to serve the county and would prefer a return to the prior open dumpster site system. Solid waste problems – specifically dumpster abuse — started when the county went away from Walco to Simmons, resulting in a reduction of available dumpsters and the substitution of access to landfills that are not conveniently located for rural residents to access; 15 to 20 miles away in some cases. With Walco charging for dumping at the landfill, those waste loads are now filling up rural dumpsters.
“And people will find other places to dump their trash,” he said, concerned it could return to past rural practices of burning on site or dumping into hole after hole on their properties.
“The dumpster system was started for a reason,” Bennett said, based on the needs and geography of rural residents, “and we need to find a way for it to work for the whole county.”
Bennett said an issue in politics is with politicians making the office a decades-long career rather than what he says the Founding Fathers intended — one to two terms. Beyond that time they begin to pursue their own agendas and not representing the people’s interests.
“If you can’t accomplish what you want in eight years,” he said, “you aren’t going to get it done anyway.”
Bennett sees the need to turn the commission on its head, bring in two new faces – himself and Denis Duman, running for the District 3 seat against incumbent Jim Chmelik. “We need new people to come in with new ideas,” he said, recognizing also they won’t have all the answers. “There has to be give and take. There’s nothing in this world that doesn’t work with give and take.”
Transparency in government is another major issue for Bennett. He said the county website, for example, is lacking such information as updated meeting minutes and operating budgets for the past two fiscal years.
Bennett sees the commission as a full-time position, one he’s committed to devote his full time to and “give the people a voice.”
“Anything I do I give it 100 percent,” he said. “Everyone who knows me knows if I tell them I’ll do something I’ll do it.”
Contact Bennett: 983-1354, email@example.com .
“Idaho County is a unique, special place because of its beauty, its freedoms and opportunities,” Frei said. He is seeking a second term to continue this great legacy, he continued, to “create conservative ideas, a conservative message, and enter into dialogue in the public sphere and say the truth as I see it, and hope and pray the truth wins out in the end.”
A Grangeville resident, Frei is a self-employed farmer/rancher who works with his father, Ron, and sister, Kim. He and his wife, Theresa, have four children, and a fifth on the way.
For Frei’s year and four months in office, the commission has been “fiscally responsible and accurate in the use of their [taxpayers’] money,” he said. This through the county not raising taxes or the amount it levies, and also in its management of the county’s $22 million budget: “Of that $22 million we were within $36,000 of using what we brought in.”
“We’re serious about garbage reform,” he said. The commission is close to creating a system to provide a fairer fee for solid waste services based on actual tonnage; in establishing a collection depot for sorting items that would realize savings in shipping costs for transport to disposal in Missoula versus in the local landfill; and incorporating recycling as a regular part of the overall program.
Frei noted the commission’s work in facilitating disaster assistance to county victims: working with the Forest Service to help farmers impacted by last year’s drought; in its coordinating efforts with local, state and federal agencies for emergency services, relief and recovery in the Kamiah fire; and efforts to open access to Elk City following the Feb. 18 landslide — spending $18,000 to get the 1199 road useable, and commission pressure on the Idaho Transportation Department to end unreasonable delays to start slide clearing operations.
“We’re continuing to fight for access to public lands,” Frei said, that are of economic, recreation and environmental benefit to the county. One issue is with the proposed Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests travel plan DRAMVU (Designated Routs and Areas for Motor Vehicle Use): “It reduces roads open year-long from 1,103 miles to 825 miles, and it reduces trails open to motorized access year-long from 568 miles to 78 miles,” he said.
He said the commission is currently developing a natural resource plan, “that will primarily help us with our relationship with the Forest Service and how our public lands are being used,” which involves setting county expectations on that use and as well how it interfaces with local economies. Once drafted, the plan will go before the public for comment.
An economic development plan Frei is working on at the state level is growing industrial hemp. “I see an economic opportunity here,” he said, to provide a new commodity to help diversify local agriculture, provide for small manufacturing opportunities in fiber and other products, and benefit service industries in trucking and shipping.
Frei noted one of his early projects was the “rights of conscience” health insurance policy, an alternative to the Affordable Care Act, for county employees that did not include, for example, contraception or abortion. He said that, were 15 employees to have taken advantage of this it would have saved the county $150,000. However, there was “too much opposition,” and so at this constituent response he discontinued pursuing it.
He stated his gratitude to residents electing him, adding “it has been a privilege and an honor to have this opportunity and serve them.”
Contact Frei: 507-0171, firstname.lastname@example.org .