As it begins its biggest day of budget-setting of the session, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee this morning voted 17-3 to add funding to the parks budget for next year for a $3 million bridge at Eagle Island State Park and for $2.14 million to purchase land for a new park at Rising River in eastern Idaho. Aside from those two major additions, the parks budget the committee set reflects only a modest 4.7 percent increase in funding. The bridge at Eagle Island will allow a major gravel-extraction project to go forward that’s expected to fund the majority of the cost of an extensively revamped state park there. The eastern Idaho park purchase completes a plan set in motion by former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne to add a new park in that part of the state. A committee has spent the past year selecting the site, but Gov. Butch Otter hadn’t recommended any money to buy the land.
The three “no” votes came from Reps. Janice McGeachin, R-Idaho Falls, and Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, and Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls.
“This is a choice piece of land,” Sen. Mel Richardson, R-Idaho Falls, told JFAC. “I think if we’re going to get some park land, we need to move and today needs to be the day.” Snake River frontage like that plot of land is going quickly, Richardson warned.
Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, supported the budget but warned that Idaho needs to invest more into maintaining its existing parks, and said this budget doesn’t do a lot in that area.