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Coalition proposes revitalization pact

| June 24, 2005 12:00 AM

By STEVE KADEL Western News Reporter

A coalition of citizens signed a document Wednesday that seeks federal legislation to revitalize independent sawmills, establish a community forest, bolster funding for schools, enhance rural fire operations and other projects to spur economic development in Lincoln County.

Those who attended the Lincoln County Commissioners' afternoon meeting represented Libby city government, timber interests, the Resource Advisory Council, the Yaak Valley Forest Council and other entities. The Lincoln County Collaborative Agreement which they signed will be sent to Montana's congressional delegation for support.

Most of the projects proposed for congressional action easily gained support from members of the diverse group.

Those included "support for a community venture to revitalize independent sawmills in our county for reasons of economic stabilization, treatment of wildland-urban interface, fuels reduction projects and healthy forest restoration."

Likewise, a provision for "greater funding and authorization of stewardship forestry on public lands in the county, particularly in the wildland-urban interface" also breezed through.

Other readily approved ideas included establishing a community forest, support of projects such as Turner Mountain Ski Area, and highway improvements to Pipe Creek Road and other county roads.

However, things screeched to a halt when a proposal to designate wilderness areas in the roadless regions of the Yaak was considered.

Robyn King of the Yaak Valley Forest Council, who led the discussion, said President Bush's recent decision to overturn the roadless rule established under President Clinton made the designation necessary.

"The roadless rule doesn't exist anymore so the only vehicle for permanent protection of those areas in the Yaak is wilderness," she said.

Keith Glover, representing the Resource Advisory Group and the Eureka timber group, said "wilderness" was an unacceptable word.

"We're running 80 percent against wilderness in the community of Eureka," he said.

"I think it's 99 percent," added Marianne Roose, Lincoln County Commissioner representing the Eureka area.

Steve Newman of the Eureka timber group said "wilderness" is a polarizing word in Eureka.

"It's such a difficult sell for us," Newman said. "We don't want to lose anything more. We don't want more of less."

However, fishing guide and Yaak Valley Forest Council member Tim Linehan suggested replacing "wilderness" with "wildland protection." Newman and Glover agreed to that, and the amended statement was approved.

Some of the other provisions approved by the group were:

l More adequately fund resource management personnel for the USFS, USFWS and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

l Appropriation and/or reallocation of monies for grooming and maintaining snowmobile trails and play areas, and monies for local ATV club.

l Encouragement and support of the Fuels-For-Schools program. Funding for area schools.

l Broadband and cellular service improvements

l SBA revision as it relates to the small business set asides.

King said there is money available to establish a community forest, but it is limited.

"We need to get to the first of the line," she said. "Lincoln County is a poster child for community forests."

She added that money also is available for some of the projects through the RAC, state and federal Departments of Transportation, and state and federal Health and Human Services.

"This is a community development package," King emphasized.

She planned to e-mail the document to Montana's congressional delegation, and follow it with hard-copy letters.

The document reads, in part, "We the undersigned representing diverse interests in Lincoln County are committed to seeking common ground solutions to facilitate the creation of a countywide economic and community development package.

"Decades of unproductive meetings have taught us that conflict resolves nothing. We are asking for help from our delegation to enact an economic and community development package. We seek to secure an infrastructure for the future while honoring out past.

"We envision the success of this package providing a template for other community ventures around the state. To this effect we suggest a bill in the same vein as the bipartisan Lincoln County Nevada legislation."

King said she wants to increase the number of people who help shape the development package in the future. Meetings to discuss the issue will be publicized, she said, and will be open to all.