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Machinery arrives; lawsuit may follow

Crooked River at issue:

Work on a bypass channel at Crooked River began on Oct. 25, even though agreement on between Idaho County and the U.S. Forest Service has been reached. County officals regard the site as historic for mining.

Credit: Idaho County
Work on a bypass channel at Crooked River began on Oct. 25, even though agreement on between Idaho County and the U.S. Forest Service has been reached. County officals regard the site as historic for mining.



— Heavy equipment has been seen in the Crooked River drainage, and a lawsuit – Idaho County against the U.S. Forest Service – may be soon to follow. The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests have, since December 2012, been planning to remove old mining dredge piles and reorder Crooked River’s flow, to benefit fish such as salmon and steelhead.

Crews began working on a bypass channel last Tuesday, Oct. 25. If the bypass channel is completed this fall, the first phase of the four-step project is anticipated next summer, with work to be completed by 2020.

“If weather or other factors delay completion of the bypass channel, the final completion date would be likewise delayed by one year, to 2021,” Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests spokesperson Christine Bradbury said.

Idaho County Commission chairman Jim Chmelik told the Free Press last week that in the absence of an agreement over historic preservation between the county and the Forest Service, the county would seek an injunction in federal court to stop the work.

In 2015, when Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests supervisor Cheryl Probert issued her decision, the Idaho County Commission sent a letter objecting to the project. These and other project documents are online at fs.usda.gov/project/?project=40648.

Behind the scenes, a series of letters between Idaho County and the Forest Service continued, with the Forest Service hosting a May 2016 field trip to the project area and the commission thereafter sending a list of 11 actions that “would be required to resolve the adverse effects.”

In August 2016, Probert sent the commission a letter describing “numerous areas where the Forest Service and county can work together to bolster the area’s history by improving our collective ability to inform and educate the public concerning the mining history component of the larger human story we all value so greatly.”

On Aug. 23, the commission again flagged three points the board said Probert’s letter did not address: one, the creation of a “historical mining loop” from the Buckhorn Bridge up Roads 212 and 492 through the mines in that area – an area that is the subject of a lawsuit Idaho County has been waging since 2014; two, that the Forest Service “agree in writing that this is the last project in the Crooked River Valley between the Highway and Orogrande;” and three, that the Forest Service arrange for the old dredge that worked in the area to be transported back to Crooked River.

On Sept. 22, Idaho County prosecutor Kirk MacGregor wrote to the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation – a Washington D.C. outfit that “requested that the Forest Service cease work on the project until the Advisory Council could review the Section 106 compliance in the case and make sure it had been completed.”

MacGregor’s letter noted that formal agreement had not been reached and asked the Advisory Council to “act as a mediator in this case.” On Thursday, Chmelik told the Free Press the board will file a court case if the Forest Service proceeds with the work.

The board held an executive session to discuss a legal matter on Tuesday, Nov. 1; such discussions are closed to the public, and county officials did not immediately respond to a Free Press inquiry that morning. Check for their response online at idahocountyfreepress.com.



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