Take a poorly worded federal regulation. Add citizens already distrustful of the federal government.
Top it off with quick-draw elected officials, and what do you get?
Lots of emotion. Lots of concern. Two public meetings. Letters back and forth. All over something that means very little.
Here’s how it happened: The Army Corps of Engineers announced its “new nationwide permit for single family housing.”
This program would cut through the red tape, the Corps said, letting homeowners get quick approval if they need to fill in a little bit of wetlands in building or expanding their home.
The Corps tagged on a few extra conditions just for Idaho. It did the same for other regions. But it didn’t tell anyone that. So to Idaho residents looking at the new rule, it appeared our state was being singled out for extra regulation.
And what regulation it was: “Fill material shall not be discharged within 100 feet of the ordinary high water mark of … streams, rivers or lakes. Fill material shall not be discharged within 500 feet of the ordinary high water mark of … streams, rivers or lakes within the watershed areas which are habitat for anadromous fish. This includes the Salmon River basin, Snake River basin below Hells Canyon Dam, and the Clearwater River basin, except for the North Fork.”
It sounded like someone with a 500-foot waterfront lot would be prohibited from building anything.
A bunch of folks out in Salmon, Idaho, read that and went ballistic. “I got a little alarmed about it,” said state Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis.
“On the surface of it, it looks like someone said, ‘Let’s go out there and get old Idaho, and lay another on ‘em.’ We’ve just about had it with that federal response.”
But Barbara Benge, an environmental resource specialist with the Corps in Walla Walla, said that language meant folks couldn’t fill wetlands within 100 or 500 feet of the waterside, not that they couldn’t fill at all.
“There’s been a lot of confusion,” Benge said.
Said Mike Allen, water quality program specialist with the Idaho Division of Environmental Quality, “They should have said what they were intending to say.”
The DEQ read the 100-and 500-foot rules to mean that the regular permit process, rather than the new one, would apply in those cases.
It also didn’t really think much of the new rule, and decided to keep on requiring a state water quality review. That’s been in place since 1977.
U.S. Reps. Mike Crapo and Helen Chenoweth both contacted the corps and got public meetings set up in Salmon and Lewiston.
Said Benge, “The nationwide permit is a very relaxed rule. The people of Idaho should be thrilled.”
But in the end, the rule comes out not much different from the status quo. And those who spent their time and emotion on it aren’t all that thrilled.
Into the zone
North Idahoans have a tough enough time remembering that Boise’s in a different time zone. How would you like to live right on the line? At one end of Riggins, that scenic little town on the Salmon River, is something folks call “Time Zone Bridge.” Cross it going north, and it’s suddenly an hour earlier. Cross it the other way and you’ve lost an hour. Some people who live on the other side of the bridge stick with Mountain Time to match businesses, schools and the like in town. Some don’t.
, DataTimes MEMO: North-South Notes runs every other Sunday. To reach Betsy Z. Russell, call 336-2854 or FAX to 336-0021.
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