Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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Transportation

Expect Lolo Pass Megaloads Decision By Thanksgiving

Peaked caps and Conoco T-shirts on beefy bodies were prevalent among an audience of about 100 who filled an auditorium at the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) in Boise on Friday morning for a dramatic confrontation concerning plans by the oil company to truck four megaloads of refinery equipment along U.S. Highway 12 over Lolo Pass. The look of the audience was in stark contrast to the long, gray hair and alternative-style dress that had predominated at the Idaho Supreme Court hearing Oct. 1. The state supreme court decided it had no jurisdiction to decide a suit brought by three northern Idaho residents to stop the shipments, because proper procedural steps had not been followed. The Nov. 19 hearing was a response to those concerns. Boise attorney Merlyn Clark, who was appointed by ITD director Brian Ness as the hearing officer, said that before Thanksgiving, he will deliver a recommendation on whether the residents’ petition to intervene in the shipments should be upheld or denied. Read More »

Bonner County Gets on the Bus

One outcome of the elections a few weeks ago was completely passed over by the pundits on TV, but it will have a significant effect on residents of and visitors to central Bonner County. I refer, of course, to the passage of a bed tax in the community of Ponderay, a burg of 1000 or so souls just north of Sandpoint. By a margin of 140 to 48, voters in that community approved a 5% tax to be assessed on short-term stays in the town’s hotels and motels. Added to funding from several other sources, proceeds from this tax will provide for a bus system that will connect Ponderay with neighbors Kootenai and Sandpoint, as well as the town of Dover, three miles west of Sandpoint. Despite the burden it will put on them to collect the tax, a majority of lodging owners and operators in Ponderay supported the measure. Read More »

What Is the Idaho Supreme Court Actually Deciding in the Highway 12 Case?

Any day, the Idaho Supreme Court could issue its ruling on the Oct. 1 hearing about the proposed shipment of four oversized loads of oil refinery equipment along U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston to Billings. When it does, the five justices will have examined numerous points of law, addressed in three lengthy briefs and in arguments during the hearing. But what, exactly, are the legal issues upon which this case, and possibly the future of Highway 12, may turn? New West approached the three lead attorneys in the case and asked them to lay it out layman's terms. Erik Stidham, who spoke in court on behalf of ConocoPhillips, and Idaho Assistant Attorney General Lawrence Allen, who represented the Idaho Transportation Department, both declined to be interviewed on grounds their organizations’ policies prevent them from talking about litigation in process. Read More »

Writer to Gov. Schweitzer: It’s Not Too Late to Stop the Big Rigs

Dear Governor Schweitzer, I remember the stirring speech you gave at the Democratic National Convention in 2008: “We face a great new challenge, one that threatens our economy, our security, our climate and our very way of life …. This costly reliance on fossil fuels threatens America and the world. … We need a new energy system that is clean, green and American made.” That day I was proud of my governor for being on the side of the future. Now, I’m not so proud. These days you say, “We need energy and the safest supply right now is coming from places like Alberta," meaning the dirtiest type of fossil fuel, extracted from tar sands. And then you say, “this is conflict-free oil.” I’m afraid, Mr. Governor, that Alberta’s tar sands oil is in no way conflict free. Read More »

Mining Near Bryce Canyon: Who Benefits?

A decision by the Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining to confirm a 2009 mining permit for Alton Coal Development is the best thing to have happened to the communities of southern Utah in some time—and the worst. It was a vindication of the thoroughness of Alton Coal’s proposal and a confirmation that the state is completely out of touch with modern values. The board stood up to badgering from extremist environmental groups and caved in to pressure from their wealthy friends in the mining industry. “The (Sierra) club is disappointed in the board for upholding the decision, but we plan to pursue every other avenue possible to stop the mine,” said Clair Jones, the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Coal” campaign spokesperson, in a response to the Aug. 3 decision. “The board’s decision to uphold the mine permit is a clear victory and will allow development to proceed in an environmentally responsible manner,” said Alton Project Manager Chris McCourt in a press release on the day of the decision. The environmental groups involved in the dispute are trying to stop any new mining in southern Utah, as usual. The mining company is trying to push the project forward while avoiding public scrutiny, as usual. The locals in favor of the mine have been cast as ignoramuses incapable of deciding where their best interests lie. What else is new? Read More »

Transportation Secretary: Equal Treatment for Bikers and Walkers is an ‘American Agenda’

When Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced late last month a "sea change" at the department that would give biking and walking the same economic treatment as driving, he set off a storm of kudos from the alternative transportation community, but also an equally vehement response, a negative one, from parts of the business and automobile communities. It started when La Hood gave this address at the National Bike Summit (link opens YouTube video) then the department actually released a policy that stated, among other things, "The establishment of well-connected walking and bicycling networks is an important component for livable communities, and their design should be a part of Federal-aid project developments." On his blog, LaHood put it this way: "Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized. Today, LaHood again defends this position in a Q&A with the New York Times, by saying this is not a top-down directive -- it's a policy that has bubbled up from the American people themselves. Read More »

Idaho, Oregon Need To Cut The Smog

A number of states in the West could be impacted by a proposal announced Thursday from the Environmental Protection Agency regarding stricter health standards for smog, replacing a Bush-era limit that ran counter to scientific recommendations. The new limit will likely put hundreds more counties nationwide in violation, a designation that will require them to find additional ways to clamp down on pollution or face government sanctions, most likely the loss of federal highway dollars, according to the EPA. The new standards could impact counties in Idaho, Oregon and Nevada, among numerous others states for the first time based on EPA data. The tighter standards will cost tens of billions of dollars to implement, but will ultimately save billions in avoided emergency room visits, premature deaths, and missed work and school days, the EPA said. Read More »

Doting Over Downtown Boise Should Stop

The irony is almost too much: Me, a conservative, urging a Democratic Mayor and Council to pay attention to poor and disenfranchised areas of the city. These days, the Boise mayor and council seem deeply uninterested in addressing urban decay problems south of the Boise River. Hundreds of Boiseans are at risk of being evicted from rickety trailer parks and hundreds of school children walk to school in dangerous conditions without sidewalks, yet the city is spending huge amounts of energy (and, possibly, money) on a downtown streetcar. Boise City should be spending stimulus money helping long-neglected Bench neighborhoods with better housing, reinvestment and life-safety features such as sidewalks. Unlike the downtown streetcar, these are all urgent needs. Since 2001 an estimated 1,300 mobile home owners in Boise have been forced to relocate. In contrast to the streetcar committee of movers and shakers, trailer park residents are the moved and the shaken. According to a Boise State University study, about 5,400 Boiseans live in manufactured housing. Half are seniors and a quarter, astoundingly, live on $900 a month or less. Most are women and nearly half have a chronic medical condition. One in four live in a park listed for sale or redevelopment. Read More »

Boise Trolley FAQs: Our Future as America’s Most Livable City

The proposed streetcar in downtown Boise has generated a lot of comment and controversy. But even with all the news coverage and discussion there still seem to be a number of questions. I try to get to the most important ones in a series of trolley FAQs: Just where exactly is Boise getting the $60 million to pay for this thing? Earlier this year President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) into law. As part of that Act, the U.S. Department of Transportation is making $1.5 billion available to state and local governments through the TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) Discretionary Grants Program. TIGER grants can be used for most any kind of transportation related project, but it must also achieve certain outcomes such as increasing livability, sustainability, economic competitiveness, and job creation. Grants will be announced as soon as possible after September 15, 2009, but not later than February 17, 2010. If the City of Boise gets the grant those funds will partially cover the start-up costs. To generate the remaining monies needed they are considering the establishment of an LID or Local Improvement District. Under the LID, the City would levy an additional tax on businesses along the streetcar route. There is still no consensus among business owners as to whether there is support for the creation of an LID, but Idaho state law 50-2601 allows Idaho municipalities to create LIDs (or BIDs - Business Improvement Districts) with a simple majority vote of the Council. The Mayor and Council will then have to cobble together funds from the City's general fund and CCDC to pay for ongoing operations. Read More »

Boise’s Kristin Armstrong Shines in Many Ways

The Idaho Statesman’s Brian Murphy had it first: Boise’s Oympic Gold Medalist Kristin Armstrong won the gold medal in the cycling world championship time trials Wednesday. In other words, she’s the fastest female cyclist on Planet Earth. Murphy quotes her as saying, “It’s amazing. It doesn’t matter what year or how many times you become world champion, it always feels the same.” Next she’ll compete in the international road race, which will be aired on the Universal Sports channel tonight (Wednesday) at 9 p.m. Mountain time. After the road race, Armstrong plans to retire. But Boiseans will never let that happen without a welcome-home-again party when she returns from Switzerland, and I'll go out on a limb here with the prediction that it will be a doozy. Armstrong’s roster of medals and awards is well-known by Idahoans, but what is less well-known is her persistent and affectionate work in promoting safe cycling and good bike trails and the health benefits for children from riding bikes. In July, she’d been home from Italy just hours when she participated in a public panel on cycling safety in downtown Boise, and her city rides with children and their parents are fresh in our memories after her 2008 Olympic Gold Medal win. Read More »