Eye On Boise

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 4, 2012, 4:10 P.M.

State asks court for permission to evict Occupy Boise tents for lawnmowing, watering

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho officials are seeking permission from a federal judge to temporarily remove Occupy Boise from their encampment on state land so they can perform repairs to the property. The Attorney General's office filed a motion last week asking U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill to modify his preliminary ruling in February prohibiting the state from evicting protesters' tents from the old Ada County Courthouse grounds. Winmill will continue hearing the case in June. The state says it needs Occupy to vacate the lawn so it can fix damage caused by the protesters' nearly six-month long vigil and also to perform seasonal maintenance, including weekly mowing. The motion says part of the property will also need to be closed in May for construction and that protesters haven't agreed to voluntarily relocate. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Alex Morrell.

Occupy Boise nears anniversary, faces challenges
By ALEX MORRELL, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Occupy Boise protest will mark its five-month anniversary Thursday, but with participation waning and a fresh offensive from Idaho officials to remove the group, protesters may be lacking cause to celebrate the occasion.

At its peak late last year, a few dozen tents surrounded the depression-era Ada County Courthouse with a membership to match, drawing the ire of lawmakers and state officials who tried throughout the 2012 legislative session to oust the Occupiers.

The tents have dwindled to about 15, and only a handful of participants watch over the vigil at any given time.

Mike Dooley, an avowed Occupy activist since December, lamented the group's diminished involvement.

"It's sad. I thought we really had something here," said Dooley, 22, a lifelong Boise resident. "Everyone you see left are the people who actually care about what we're doing here."

Idaho officials are taking another legal jab at the group, asking a federal judge for permission to temporarily remove the Occupy encampment so they can do basic repairs and upkeep to the property. A hearing date has not yet been set on the state's latest motion.

It follows a ruling in February by U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill, who issued a temporarily halt the state's first attempt to boot the protesters — a law banning camping on state managed land.

A separate bill passed at the end of the session gave the Department of Administration power to make rules regulating the use of grounds, but that law has limited thrust with the restraining order in effect.

In his ruling, Winmill decided Occupy's tents are a symbol of their protest of income inequality and qualify as protected free speech. But he ordered sleeping, cooking and camping-related activities to cease. Winmill will hear arguments on that portion of the case in June.

Now the attorney general's office is asking Winmill to modify his injunction, saying the state needs unfettered access to the land so it can fix damage caused by the protest and also to perform seasonal maintenance, including weekly mowing.

Deputy Attorney General Carl Withroe wrote in the motion that the group's vigil "prevents the state from adequately maintaining the property."

"It has caused significant damage to the grounds and Plaintiffs' refusal to temporarily relocate has effectively obstructed the state's efforts to repair and maintain the grounds," Withroe continued.

He estimates 10,000 to 25,000 square feet of grass will need to be re-sodded or re-seeded, costing anywhere from $2,500 to $15,000.

Part of the property also needs to be closed off in May for construction to the old courthouse, which will be renovated into a law library for the University of Idaho.

The state wants Occupy to front a $10,000 bond to cover the damage if the request is denied and protesters refuse to vacate.

Occupy participants acknowledged some damage, including a space almost completely bare of grass under a large, military-style tent that houses a wood-burning stove and serves as the group's social hub. Protesters say they are interested in working with the state to preserve the grounds, but note their relationship with government officials is strained and fraught with suspicion.

"We don't want to see the property damaged either," said David Latch, a 53-year-old Occupy member. "There's a very major lack of trust."

The state's request, which would effectively require the group to pack up its tents and relocate on at least a weekly basis, could test the resolve of the already flagging movement.

Latch estimated the protesters' largest tents take about four hours to set up if you have six well-trained people.

"Simply moving them around? Not really that feasible. Although practice makes perfect," Latch said.

Dooley acknowledges the struggle of maintaining the protest. The restraining order against the state injected new life into the cause, but the camping restrictions dampened participation.

"It's a lot harder to sustain a movement than to start one," Dooley said, railing against public complacency amid their fading numbers. "We can do this all day long with zero tents, but we can't do anything without people."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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