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Ski club head demands investigation into county employee

by Derrick Perkins Western News
| January 28, 2020 10:28 AM

The head of the local cross-country ski club wants Lincoln County commissioners to investigate a public employee after she raised concerns about the group’s infrastructure projects.

Ben Scott, president of the Kootenai Cross Country Ski Club, accused an unnamed county forester of working to stop the organization’s plans to build improvements in the Flower Creek area while on county time.

He leveled the accusation at the commissioners’ Jan. 22 meeting, just a day after Libby City Council voted against supporting a club-led effort to pave a half-mile stretch of city land for year-round use.

The property is owned by the city as it adjoins Libby’s water supply, but is bordered by county and state land. Club members want to continue transforming the area into a cross-country ski facility worthy of hosting local children and events, lure in Olympic athletes and serve as a draw for outdoor enthusiasts across the region.

But past problems with permitting, opposition from residents and concerns the development could harm Libby’s water supply convinced city councilors to shelve Scott’s latest proposal in recent weeks. Scott was twice rejected in his attempts to garner their support in seeking grant money to complete the paving.

Without city backing, grant managers will not approve the funding in this cycle. It may be several years before club officials can reapply for those dollars.

At the Jan. 21 city council meeting, Scott alluded to unnamed individuals doggedly hampering his efforts, before Mayor Brent Teske stopped him short, saying any opposition was part of the public comment process.

Before the county commissioners, Scott called it a “witch hunt,” saying the employee admitted at city council she had done her research while working for the county. Pressed on that, Scott said instead the conflict was “implied.”

“We basically have a county employee who is usurping her authority and jumping the gun,” he said. “I’m pretty frustrated with where we’re at. … I’m kinda done. I’m tired of having to deal with her. I just want to make you aware of it. She’s really jeopardizing what I think are two really good projects up there.”

County Commissioner Mark Peck (D-1), who serves as board chair, said county officials would investigate whether the unidentified employee’s efforts occurred while on the clock.

Scott also asked whether the county could buy or otherwise annex the land from the city.

“Their position is now, because I’ve broken the public trust with them, etc., [the planned projects are not] going to happen,” Scott told the commissioners. “It’s city property but it’s in the county. Is there any arrangement that could be made to turn that into a county park?”

Peck responded by telling Scott that the public comment portion of the commissioners’ agenda was mostly for feedback from residents. There was not a lot of action the commissioners could take, even if they were so inclined, he said.

“To answer your question, there are ways to do it,” Peck said. “Would we do it? I don’t know.”