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Carry Over

| December 29, 2005 11:00 PM

New Year's represents the end of one year and the resetting of the barometer to measure accomplishments. Everyone begins at zero, again.

In reality that's not quite true. There's much to carry forward from the old year. Especially in these parts.

For instance, somebody needs to keep an eye on the following:

* State highway officials told Libby elected representatives and residents in late October that the plans for the first of three sections of Swamp Creek improvements to U.S. Highway 2 would be completed by the end of 2005 and let in January 2007 for construction to begin in 2007. We've been hearing that since 1985.

* Jan. 3 is the deadline to comment to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers draft environmental impact statement for Var-Q, a water management plan that meets a variety of needs. A recent telephone call from Corps officials in Seattle indicated this newspaper was devoting too much newsprint on two alternatives listed in the DEIS that call for spilling about 11,000 cubic-feet per second at Libby Dam in addition to releasing 25,000 to 26,000 — cfs through the turbines. Talking to people locally, the general attitude is why bother getting involved in a process where the local concerns and opinions are ignored. The Seattle officials did make sense on one count: If we tell them what we don't want and tell them what we want as part of the DEIS comment process, it is on the record. Even if the Corps manages to avoid an additional spilling and 41,000 cfs flows such as a few years ago, the river continues to be unapproachable for shore fishermen — both bait and fly — as well as bathers for most of the summer months.

I suppose it could be worse. The flows are steady, which is good for the fishery. And the increase and decrease in flows is conducted slowly so as not to damage insect life. It's just dang hard to approach the river, sometimes even so in a drift boat. But at least the BPA (Bonneville Power Administration) is no longer yoyo-ing the levels up and down in short periods of time.

* Speaking of our friends at the BPA, they will be releasing a DEIS of their own in the spring concerning the transmission line that runs along the Kootenai River Road down near Big Horn Terrace. There seems to be little doubt that the capacity of the transmission line needs to be increased to 230 kilovolts. The questions remains about what type of pole will be used and whether or not the BPA will reroute the line away from the residential area rather than force a wider easement of property owners in the area. This has the makings of a big brouhaha since the neighbors at the far end of the river road are already wound up. Why hasn't anybody suggested the BPA cross the river farther upstream and follow either the highway or railroad downstream? Perhaps it's easier for the government to take land from small property owners than from a corporate landowner that contributes to political races and lobbyists?

* The forest planning process enters year two, at least from the public-participation standpoint. I think we're further from the endpoint than the Forest Service will admit with quite a bit of controversy and angst ahead. If you look around the country at the various national forests, one of the biggest controversies that the media doesn't report on involves conflicts between recreational users and the impacts of the recreational users on the national forest lands. And those problems aren't just motorized recreation. Human powered recreation, such as mountain bikes and hikers, are causing significant damage and problems in many forests, too. There hasn't been much discussion about an overall recreational plan for the Kootenai National Forest. Only a few years ago, when we still had a mill in Libby and there was more widespread logging, the Forest Service gave the impression they were not interested in managing recreation — nor were they in a position to do it. After years of cutbacks in personnel, I'm not so sure things have changed that much.

By the way, all of these processes involving federal projects are required to study the impacts on human beings — the socio-economic impacts — according to the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. It also requires federal agencies to take considerable public comment on their proposals. That's another one of those laws that the politicians in Washington, D.C., and some federal agency bureaucrats want to dismantle because it hinders their efforts.

That would speed things up, to leave the public in the dark. Seems to be a trend that we inadvertently support. Take the time to comment or forever lose the right.

Happy New Year! It's just going to get busier. — Roger Morris