GRANGEVILLE - The Idaho County commissioners voted Tuesday to tuck away $5,000 allocated to the American Lands Council and instead use it for a local group led by Commission Chairman Jim Chmelik dedicated to the same goal.
Chmelik said because of an oversight, the check the commissioners authorized to the Utah-based lands council for 2015 was never mailed.
When the omission was recently discovered, Chmelik said, the commissioners decided to void that check. Instead, they voted Tuesday to set aside the $5,000 for future payment to the Coalition of Counties - an organization Chmelik is heading to wrest control of public lands in Western states from the federal government and return them to local authority.
"My battle is not with the federal agencies," Chmelik said. "It's the laws and the way they're written," that prevent county residents from access to logging and other revenue-generating activities on public lands.
All three commissioners, including Chmelik, voted on the measure Tuesday. When asked about his vote and whether his leadership on the Coalition of Counties poses a conflict of interest with his position as chairman of the board of commissioners, Chmelik said "there is no conflict of interest.
"I'm just trying to put together a coalition of counties, and I'm not accepting any money from the county," Chmelik said. "I'm just trying to change the way things are being done" in Idaho County and other counties.
In a prepared statement, the commissioners underscored their support for the lands council and said the money budgeted for the Coalition of Counties "will be used to implement legal and communications strategies and to employ legal teams in filing claims against the federal government for endangering the health, safety, welfare and economic viability of the counties."
The commissioners previously authorized two $5,000 payments to the American Lands Council in 2012 and 2013. Those checks were cashed, according to records at the Idaho County Auditor's Office. No other money has been spent with the organization, and Chmelik emphasized none of his personal or travel expenses have come from the county.
Chmelik has been traveling the West to sign up support for the coalition and said there are 13 counties in three states on board so far. When 50 counties have signed up, the coalition plans to take action against the federal government.
Chmelik said the coalition also plans to join the Citizens for Balanced Use in Gateway, Mont., which advocates for multiple uses of federal and state-managed public lands.
"The Coalition of Counties is moving forward," Chmelik said. "We're getting some good interest and I thought it would be a better place to budget funds for the county."
In other business, the commissioners met with Jerry Zumalt, the county's emergency management director, and Brandon Hobbs of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from Boise.
Hobbs said a team of engineers recently took a look at the Lawyers Creek, Adams Grade and Tom Taha areas near Kamiah that were affected by last summer's wildfires. The plan was to assess how vulnerable those steep hillside areas might be to future soil erosion, runoff and floods.
Hobbs said all the areas have places where landslides could occur during a wet spring or summer. Many of the potential problems, however, could be mitigated with some prevention work, such as keeping culverts cleared and moving downed timber and other trash before it collects at low points and creates dams that could wash out roads.
The corps could help with some of that debris removal and prevention work, Hobbs said, but it would fall mostly to local agencies and workers for the initial response if a flood occurred.
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