Writings and observations

Swan Falls Dam

Swan Falls Dam/BLM

The last time Idaho Power Company butted heads with the state of Idaho over water rights at the Swan Falls Dam – this was in the first half of the 80s – the results rocked the state. Many of the results have worked out reasonably well; the Snake River Basin Adjudication, which was a direct result of that last conflict, probably will be a long-term benefit for southern Idaho.

The new lawsuit filed by Idaho Power Company, filed now as then in protection of 1905-dated water rights at the Swan Falls Dam on the Snake River roughly south of Boise, has a more dangerous edge. Back then, Idaho Power, in protection of its water rights (which it uses to generate cheap electric juice), did serve notice to thousands of southern Idaho water users that their water might be cut off. But at the same time, the utility was negotiating, trying to find a way to protect its rights while avoiding damaging and alienating its customer base. And, more or less, they and state and federal officials made it work. They guaranteed a minimum water flow for Idaho Power in return for state control and distribution of water flowing through the Snake above that minimum.

But water has been getting tighter in recent years, and now Idaho Power maintains there isn’t any more beyond their guaranteed minimum and that, to meet its rights, many water users (mainly of ground water) will have to be shut off. In contrast to the 80s, the room or inclination to negotiate seems considerably less.

The room has to do with the physical realities of the situation, which could upend large parts of southern Idaho agriculture.

The inclination could come from somewhere else. Our suspicion for some years has been that once work on relicensing the three Hells Canyon dams to Idaho Power was complete, that corporate vultures would swiftly circle and dive-bomb at Idaho Power, which so far has been Idaho-based – but might not be for a lot longer. The new Swan Falls lawsuit feeds into that scenario.

Here’s how, deep inside an Idaho Statesman analysis by Rocky Barker of the legal action: “Idaho Power provides irrigation customers lower, subsidized power rates to run their pumps. Putting those customers out of business would give Idaho Power more low-cost power to sell to customers who pay higher rates. Critics say this is Idaho Power’s real intention and would make the company a more attractive buyout target.”

A buyout was a lesser consideration a quarter-century ago. Today, it seems more a matter of time, and an Idaho Power based not in Boise but across the country might be a very different animal. Southern Idaho irrigators might be wise to give that careful consideration as they plot their next moves.

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We have no particular take here on the technical issues involved, but watch closely how this issue comes out – this matter of a conflict between a batch of local governments in Kootenai County, and the Real Life Ministries at Post Falls.

The background matter is the fragile Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer, which underlies much of western Kootenai County and beyond, and provides drinking water for the metro area – upwards of a half-million people. Officials in Washington and Idaho have been working to avoid pollution of the aquifer. To that end local governments in Kootenai, including the cities of Post Falls, Rathdrum and Hayden and local water and sewer districts, have been pulling together plans for a centralized sewer system, and gradual elimination of the mass of septic tanks and systems in the area.

Real Life is an evangelical church which has been growing wildly in the last decade (and it is only about a decade old). Until recently, the big church in the region was New Life at Rathdrum, which as of a few years back had grown to upwards of 3,000 people; people from its membership became important political players, two at least state legislators. But in the last few years Real Life at Post Falls has blown past, averaging Sunday turnouts of around 7,000 and drawing an estimated 12,000 for last month’s Easter services. It is the largest church in Idaho by a couple of orders of magnitude, and the largest in eastern Washington as well.

Real Life last built a main structure in 2004, but in response to its growth has been pressing for building expansion. Its plans, news reports say: “The church hopes to build a new campus over the aquifer, including a 3,500-seat worship center and nine other buildings totaling 458,000 square feet.” And a new septic system as well, which led to the concerns from local mayors and others.

This is a situation with political implications. Watch it closely.

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Here’s something lawsuits are sometimes good for: Providing insight, shining halogen lights on sometimes significant places we might not otherwise see.

The Idaho Radio blog has a fine post about the conflict between Citadel Broadcasting and Peak Broadcasting, both significant players in Idaho radio (as predecessor and successor), drawn from court documents over their battle. The documents suggest an insiders’ view of radio programming and competition in the Boise market.

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Common sense tells us that there’s no such thing as a “solution” on the immigration issue. The rate and type of inflow, our nation’s needs and our ability to control travel are ever-changing. The most we can hope for is an ongoing monitor and adjustment, developed outside the context of panic and hysteria the topic seems to produce in so many areas.

Northwest politics likely will be affected, then, by the new compromise immigration bill in the U.S. Senate. Idaho Senator Larry Craig, who has worked with a wide variety of senators on immigration (one of his best allies has been senior Senate Democrat Robert Byrd) offered this: “While there is no way to please everyone on an issue as complex and divisive as this one, the legislation the Senate will be debating next week has many provisions that will promote our economy, protect the security of our country and its citizens, and deal fairly with both citizens and non-citizens alike. I believe this bill will serve the interests and needs of Idaho and the nation well.”

The bill will not, however, much satisfy the anti-immigrant community. You can expect to be hearing a lot more about this soon.

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McCall

McCall waterfront

Growth equals more money equals improved prosperity, right? Such would be the intuitive thought, but reality is that more growth and even more money can be trouble. There’s a long line of businesses that have collapsed over the years because they didn’t carefully enough navigate the narrows of managing that change. And cities, too, as McCall is finding out.

Drive around McCall, Idaho, and it’s the last place you’d figure for money trouble. Lots of new houses, lots of new businesses – its official population of around 3,500 has been a joke of long standing, since the part-timers and those located just beyond city limits would easily push the numbers to three times that. Situated in one of Idaho’s most scenic areas (much more scenic than Sun Valley), it’s the very picture of prosperity.

And the city of McCall is on the edge of bankruptcy, which it may declare next week.

It got to this pass because it needed to rehabilitate and expand its waste water (which it had been dumping into the Payette River). It hired a contractor to do the job, and disputes flared and accelerated involving the contractor, its bonding company and a second contractor. The end result was that the city was ordered, by federal Judge Lynn Winmill, to pay the bonding company (Wausau – the city tags the issue as the “Wausau judgment”) about $6 million, money it does not now have.

As an Associated Press/McCall Star-News report summed, “McCall could declare bankruptcy, double city property taxes, sell property or issue bonds to solve its legal dilemma. If the city declared a municipal bankruptcy, officials said, it would get time to reorganize its finances but continue to operate and provide all city services.” It also would be under the supervision of a bankruptcy court – not the local voters. An immediate payment would, as noted, double property taxes in McCall, though presumably for only one year.

Mayor Bill Robertson has called a community meeting for Monday, and so far has said this: “I write to you as the Mayor of the City of McCall to inform you of recent legal developments that impact all of the members of this community. The City of McCall must find a way to pay judgments entered against the City by the United States District Court for the District of Idaho in excess of $6 million. These judgments are final and irreversible. This is a critical time in the history of our community. The City does not have the ability to immediately pay these judgments. The City, however, must make difficult financial decisions in order to satisfy the judgments entered against it because we must find a way to raise significant revenues for immediate payment of the judgments while simultaneously providing vital public services.”

As the Boise Guardian suggests, “Growthophobia could pop up next week in McCall after the bad news is explained to residents.”

This will be a case worth study.

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Last legislative session, backers of a new Idaho community college to serve the Ada-Canyon areas pushed hard for a change in law that would allow for creation and funding of a new community college district with 60% of the vote, rather than the current two-thirds. They lost: A majority of House tax committee members, all of them Republicans and including members from the Canyon/west Ada area, voted against.

There was a reason for that legislative push: The college’s backers thought the odds would be stacked fearfully high in asking for a two-thirds vote from a constituency so conservative and often so anti-tax. Now they’re trying regardless, looking toward election May 22. The results will be a noteworthy test, worthy of close examination afterward, since the pro-college effort has quite a few assets stacked on its side.

The college’s backers, to start with, are well organized and funded. There are actually two organizations, Community College Yes and Community College Now (the latter a project of the Albertson Foundation), and they have been busy. (More on that in a moment.) No organized opposition group has, at least, surfaced, with less than two weeks to go till election day. (There are rumblings that one may yet emerge.)

This effort has, of course, backing from Democrats (now probably a thin majority in Boise, though not beyond city limits); they also supported it in the legislature. But it also has considerable Republican support. Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, whose credentials as a tax critic are certainly in order, has signed on to a statement on the organization’s web site. A bunch of other Republicans have signed on as well.

The Boise corporate community has largely signed on as well. The top staffer of Community College Yes is Mike Reynoldson, recently of Micron Technology and before that a long-time Qwest staffer (who before that was executive director of the Idaho Republican Party). Micron Technology has apparently thrown considerable resources toward the effort, and it is not alone.

In reflection of some of this: A bunch of bloggers jointly signed on to the effort yesterday, including not only Democratic sites such as Red State Rebels but also conservatives like Adam Graham (who pointed out, among other things, the benefits of the college for home schoolers).

And there is significant organization and campaign thought being given to the project. Money has been made available, and carefully-targeted residents in the area have been getting slick, heavy-stock mailers that serve as combination promotional pieces and absentee ballots. The college forces have been pushing the absentee ballot approach hard. The strategy apparently revolves around the idea that heavy targeted absentee balloting together with a low-turnout election might yield the two-thirds needed for passage. It’s probably their best strategy; it might work.

And there is this: The May 22 vote won’t ask for any money, only for permission to set up the district. A money election will come later, if the first one works. The money may not have to be extravagant, because the whole college, or much of it at least, might be located in existing college and high school buildings.

Will all of this be enough, even with low turnout? That’s a tough call.

Consider the Idaho Statesman report today from last night’s Canyon County Republican meeting, at which costs and campaign tactics were called into question, along with the existing services provided by Oregon’s Treasure Valley Community College, which provides some classes in Canyon facilities. A lot of western Ada and Canyon counties are so ferociously anti-tax and anti-government that even a Butch Otter likely would have a hard time convincing them.

We’ll be watching the results on May 22 with high interest.

CORRECTION Updating, in the post, Reynoldson’s resume; he recently has been employed at Micron, since his years at Qwest, which was noted earlier.

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The blog tracker Technorati has a new tool we may find useful in the months ahead, charts showing the number of references in blog posts to a specific name or word.

Here, for example, is the measure of mentions of “Bill Sali” – the Idaho representative – in blogs over the last six months.

Posts that contain Bill Sali per day for the last 180 days.
Technorati Chart
Get your own chart!

You might have thought that as election season moved on and the summer doldrums approached, that references to Sali (and other politicians) would have diminished. Not so; in fact, they seem to be rising.

What about other Northwesterners? What’s the pattern for, say, Oregon Senator Gordon Smith?

Bigger, more sweeping, but similar in dynamic:

Posts that contain Gordon Smith per day for the last 180 days.
Technorati Chart
Get your own chart!

But some follow ore expected patterns. Moving to the statehouse level, let’s check the pattern for Washington House Speaker Frank Chopp, a figure well known in that state’s politics but not so much elsewhere.

Posts that contain Frank Chopp per day for the last 180 days.
Technorati Chart
Get your own chart!

This tracks remarkably closely to the periods of high interest and activity in the Washington Legislature.

We’ll be revisiting this useful tool.

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We’ve suggested in the past that candidates who receive questionnaires from ideological groups probably are not well served in answering the questions on them: The questions are usually designed to frame ideas and issues according to the thought processes of the group, while the candidates may think of those issues differently. An answer, yes or no, from a candidate can amount to putting words in the candidate’s mouth.

So, a candidate who does answer can be assumed to look at these questions much as the organization does.

So we’ll be interested to know who winds up responding to the new Idaho Values Alliance questionnaire for applicants for the Idaho Supreme Court.

Here are the questions. For the first 20, respondents are asked if they agree or disagree with the statement; the last few questions are multiple-choice.

1. The Founders of the state of Idaho were grateful to God for our freedom.

2. All men have an inalienable right to enjoy and defend both life and liberty.

3. All men have an inalienable right to acquire, possess, and protect property.

4. All political power is inherent in the people, not the courts.

5. The exercise and enjoyment of religious faith and worship should be forever guaranteed.

6. Liberty of conscience should not be construed to excuse acts of licentiousness.

7. Bigamy and polygamy should be forever prohibited in the state of Idaho.

8. Idahoans should have the right to freely speak, write and publish on all subjects, but are responsible for the abuse of that liberty.

9. Idaho’s constitution permits capital punishment.

10. The people, not just the militia, should have the right to keep and bear arms.

11. Idaho law should not impose licensure, registration or special taxes on the ownership of firearms or ammunition.

12. Idaho law should not permit the confiscation of firearms, except those actually used in the commission of a felony.

13. The right of eminent domain should be permitted for any use necessary to the complete development of the material resources of the state.

14. Property qualifications should be allowed for school elections and elections creating indebtedness.

15. Unless the constitution expressly directs or permits, the judicial department should not exercise the powers properly belonging to the legislative and executive departments.

16. Casino gambling is contrary to public policy and should be strictly prohibited, including electronic and electromechanical imitation and simulation of all forms of casino gambling.

17. The first concern of all good government should be the virtue and sobriety of the people, and the purity of the home.

18. The legislature should further all well directed efforts to promote temperance and morality.

19. All political subdivisions in Idaho should be prohibited from recognizing any domestic legal union other than a marriage between a man and a woman.

20. The governor should have the power to disapprove of any item or items of any bill making appropriations of money embracing distinct items.

21. Which one of the current or recent U.S. Supreme Court Justices most reflects your judicial philosophy? (Ginsburg, O’Connor, Kennedy, Scalia, Other)

22. Rate your judicial philosophy on a scale of 1-10 when approaching the constitution, with “living document” being a 1 and “strict constructionist” being a 10.

23. Which of the following former U.S. Presidents best represents your political philosophy? (Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Other)

So, who will answer?

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Much of what we routinely see as the downside of the wired world – spam and the like – is nuisance but manageable. Not all on line threats are so easy to deal with.

That’s the point made by Aaron Turner, a cybersecurity strategist for the Idaho National Laboratories, which has plenty to keep secure. Writing in CSO Magazine (a trade publication for security people), he says about his local experience:

“The Departments of Energy and Homeland Security have funded 12 separate control system security reviews, during which Idaho National Labs (INL) experts have found that all of the evaluated systems suffer from high-impact security vulnerabilities that could be exploited by a low-skill-level attacker, using techniques that do not require physical access to systems. In reviewing the design and implementation of these control systems, the INL team discovered that in currently deployed systems, enhanced security controls cannot easily be implemented while still assuring basic system functionality.”

And: “With computer attackers constantly looking for new targets, they will follow the path of least resistance, which could lead them to the control systems that underlie our infrastructure.”

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Minidoka Internment Camp

Minidoka internment camp/National Park Service

You could call it the final indignity, if it come to pass. Which it may, cattle feedlot applications in the Magic Valley having the pull they have. But maybe not.

The location of this issue is the Hunt area north of Eden, Idaho, which is east of Jerome, near the middle of the Magic Valley. This is where, during World War II, a camp was built to house Americans of Japanese ancestry, citizens who were uprooted from their homes and packed off to the desert. It now is the site of the Minidoka Internment National Monument, a memorial to one of the sadder incidents in our national life, and an invitation to think more wisely in the future.

So going there would be a good thing for Americans to do. But Big Sky Farms LLP is proposing to launch a powerful disincentive to visitors: A cattle feed lot which would service more than 13,000 head of cattle. That many head of cattle will create smell, and the smell is almost certain to drift regularly across the mile and a half separating the feed lot and the memorial.

Other neighbors have issue with the feed lot, too. (Is there anyone who would want one across the street?) But the memorial ought to have a special call here: A national facility intended to redress with some dignity a wrong done to some of the people of this country, possibly being done in – as a tourist attraction – by cow excrement. We’ll check back on this.

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