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Eye On Boise

Wildfire risk ‘public nuisance’ law proposed, then pulled for more work

Sen. Sheryl Nuxoll, R-Cottonwood, proposed legislation in the Senate Resources Committee today that’s nearly word-for-word identical to an American Legislative Exchange Council model law aimed at allowing local officials to declare a “catastrophic public nuisance” on public lands if they think there’s undue risk of wildfire there, and “demand abatement.” If the state or federal agencies don’t comply within 30 days, they’re to consult with attorneys.

“The purpose of this legislation is to allow counties in Idaho to declare a catastrophic public nuisance and request abatement from public land management agencies when the condition of publicly managed land presents a danger of catastrophic wildfire and threatens the health, safety and welfare of the citizens,” Nuxoll told the committee. “There’s no money attached with this. … It just forces a get-together to admit that there’s a public nuisance.”

Nuxoll said her proposal was modeled after a law Utah passed last year, which is, indeed, nearly identical. So is the ALEC model law, which is online here; it matches Nuxoll’s proposal nearly word-for-word, with the exception of the word “political subdivision” being replaced in the Idaho version by “county;” the Idaho version also leaves out a clause about municipalities. The model version on the ALEC website begins, “Be it enacted by the Legislature of the state of [INSERT STATE]:.”

Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum, told Nuxoll, “Having, like you, had a number of catastrophic fires in my backyard, we had the blessing of having all the agencies work together as a good team.” She asked whether the bill was aimed at pushing any naysayers into litigation. Nuxoll said, “In our area, the agencies did work together very well at the time of the fire, but this is to prevent that situation.”

When senators on the panel had questions about the wording of the proposal, Nuxoll deferred to Fred Birnbaum of the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Sen. Roy Lacey, D-Pocatello, noted that the first section of the bill referred to “state or federal land,” while the third, on “emergency abatement,” referred only to “federally managed land.” Birnbaum acknowledged the discrepancy in the bill. “I can’t dispute that – that’s exactly what it says,” he said. The same discrepancy occurs in the ALEC model legislation, and in the Utah law.

“The intent of this legislation was to provide a means by which the county commissioners could push back if state or federal land was mismanaged to the point there was a threat of catastrophic wildfires,” Birnbaum told the committee. “It should say, ‘State and federal.’”

After Senate Resources Chairman Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, asked Nuxoll if she wanted to withdraw her proposal to “work on it some more,” Nuxoll said yes.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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