Friday, August 29, 2014

One Hour After New Idaho Underpass Opens... Crash!

Posted By on Fri, Aug 29, 2014 at 10:40 AM

It took less than an hour for a newly christened Idaho underpass to be the scene of an accident Thursday.

KIDK-TV reports that state and local officials cut the ribbon on a new underpass on the Yellowstone Highway in Idaho Falls on the morning of Aug. 28. Less than 60 minutes later, a truck crashed into the structure.

"I just turned and I was like, 'Really? Already?' You know, I can't believe it," said Mitch Anderson, who works at a nearby auto shop. "I had a customer stop in [Thursday] morning and he was saying, 'You know, it would be a good promotion to take bets on when the first accident's going to happen in the underpass."

The truck driver was cited for inattentive driving and the city of Idaho Falls sent out a press release reminding motorists that the underpass has a 12-foot clearance.
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59 Cabin Sites Net $26M For Idaho School Endowment Fund

Posted By on Fri, Aug 29, 2014 at 10:38 AM

Of the 59 Priest Lake cabin sites auctioned by the Idaho Department of Lands Thursday, 58 of the families who have been on those sites - some for as many as 40 years - were the winning bidders.  And only two of the sites had competitive bids. In the one instance where the winning bid came from someone other than the current lessee, the winner will have to additionally pay the lessee the market value of the cabin that is on the site.

IDOL officials said they took in more than $26 million from the auction.

This morning's Coeur d'Alene Press reports that nearly 500 people attended Thursday's auction at the Coeur d'Alene Resort.

To date, including Thursday's auction, Idaho has auction off 95 of the 534 cottage site lots at Priest Lake and Payette Lake in McCall. The Land Board has already approved another 36 lots at Payette Lake to be auctioned off later this year and another Priest Lake auction is expected in 2015.

The proceeds are funneled to an endowment fund that supports Idaho's public school system.
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Thursday, August 28, 2014

BNSF Plans New Rail Bridge over Lake Pend Oreille in North Idaho

Posted By on Thu, Aug 28, 2014 at 10:25 AM

The train bridge over Lake Pend Oreille, near Sandpoint, stretches almost a mile and was built in 1905. - CHRIS BESSLER, SANDPOINTONLINE.COM
  • Chris Bessler,
  • The train bridge over Lake Pend Oreille, near Sandpoint, stretches almost a mile and was built in 1905.

They call it "the funnel," and looking at a map of rail lines in the Western United States it's clear why. Tracks from the Midwest fan out and converge on a dense choke point located in the Idaho Panhandle—that's where westbound Union Pacific, Burlington Northern-Santa Fe and Montana Rail Link trains converge before hitting a central rail yard in Spokane, Wash.

But before they reach Spokane, those trains have to pass over a 4,769-foot-long bridge across Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho's largest lake. And it's slow going. Completed in 1905 and built with a steel deck and concrete pilings, the bridge is narrow—only a single track—and represents one of the most severe capacity constraints for BNSF on its northern line from the Great Lakes to the Washington Coast.

The rail company, owned by Warren Buffett, is looking to change that, with a plan to build a second bridge adjacent to the existing span.

According to Railway Age, the company is in the preliminary engineering design phase, but confirmed it would construct a bridge 4,800 feet long, made of concrete spans and steel pilings. Track centers on the bridges would be about 50 feet apart. 

BNSF's northern rail corridor hits a choke point in the Idaho Panhandle called "the funnel." - WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikimedia Commons
  • BNSF's northern rail corridor hits a choke point in the Idaho Panhandle called "the funnel."

Approximately 50 trains, and as many as 70, everyday chug over the existing bridge, which replaced a wooden trestle put up by the Northern Pacific Railroad in the 1880s. They carry everything from agricultural products and fuel, to cars and chemicals. Recently, controversy has crept up over BNSF's plan to ship coal through the area on its way to massive, proposed shipping terminals on the Washington and Oregon coasts.

Though the export terminals—which would handle coal bound for China—are still undergoing review amid intense opposition in coastal communities as well as towns along the line including Sandpoint, estimates suggest that rail traffic would increase by about 40 trains per day should the coal shipments become a reality.

Rail congestion in Bonner County, where the bridge is located, is already a major problem, with long wait times for commuters and emergency vehicles at many of the 160 rail crossings in the county.

According to a BNSF spokesman, quoted by Railway Age, the company must first undergo permitting, but hopes to have its secondary bridge completed by 2018.

Cost estimates are not yet available, and a call to BNSF went unanswered.

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Sunday, August 17, 2014

Idaho Protesters Want Stricter Rules For Immigrants But Fewer Regulations For Themselves

Posted By on Sun, Aug 17, 2014 at 9:30 AM

Holding signs that read, "Honk for America" and "No Amnesty" and waving American flags, protesters stood north of the Perrine Memorial Bridge in Twin Falls Saturday to deride undocumented workers and their families.

"It's about patriotism and the Constitution," protester B.J. Tomberlin told the Twin Falls Times-News while holding another sign that read "Secure Our Borders."

The protesters, part of something called "Overpasses for America," said they reject immigration amnesty, but would also like to impeach President Barack Obama.

"It's not that we don't want people to move here," said another protester Debra McCreery. "We just want them to respect our laws when they do."

The group's Facebook page calls for lower taxes and "fewer regulations."

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Idaho's Lone Amtrak Station Undergoing Renovation

Posted By on Thu, Aug 14, 2014 at 3:16 PM

The Sandpoint train station, built in 1906, is the only Amtrak stop in Idaho. - ARIC SPENCE
  • Aric Spence
  • The Sandpoint train station, built in 1906, is the only Amtrak stop in Idaho.

For 98 years, passengers have shuttled east and west through the train station in Sandpoint—including President Theodore Roosevelt in 1911 during a stop recommended by Idaho Senator William Borah.

Since 1997, when the Pioneer Route was discontinued in Southern Idaho, the Sandpoint station has been the only passenger rail stop in the state served by Amtrak, but the Gothic-style brick station—added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1973—has not weathered the years well.

The building was closed to the public in 2009 after leaks were discovered in its roof. Since then, Amtrak passengers have had to wait on the open-air platform into the wee hours and often in cold, wet conditions.

After years of preservation efforts, that is about to change. The Bonner County Daily Bee reports that after negotiations between the city of Sandpoint, station owner Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railway and Amtrak, work will begin this summer to renovate and reopen the depot.

Bid to Sandpoint contractor Idagon, the project is funded through about $1 million given to BNSF by the Idaho Transportation Department for stabilization of the station—part of a deal struck during construction of the 2-mile-long Sand Creek Byway, which moved U.S. 95 from downtown Sandpoint to a route next to the building. The funds were transferred to Amtrak, which is in charge of the project.

"The project is a ‘rehabilitation,’ which means we will be bringing the building up to today’s standards regarding HVAC, ADA, etc.," Idagon owner Justin Schuck told Boise Weekly in an email. 

The company will begin by removing toxic materials like asbestos from the building. From there, Idagon will replace the multiple layers of roofing with a style close to what might have been used when the station was first constructed. Matching colors as closely as possible to historic hues, Schuck said roof work will be followed by repairing and "rescuing" the brick, inside and out, and retrofitting the existing bathrooms and communications room for conversion into a waiting room and unisex ADA bathroom.

"The key components of this rehabilitation are keeping the textures/colors/feeling of the building as it was originally designed while incorporating new and more efficient techniques, materials and fixtures," Schuck wrote, adding that Idagon has enlisted the help of a brick specialist and an expert in building rehabilitation with experience in the Seattle area.

Aside from the roofing changes, the Art Deco font on the current sign—installed in the 1950s—will be replaced with the original Gothic font.

"We are bringing her back to the visual appearance as it did for its grand opening," Schuck wrote.

Sandpoint Mayor Carrie Logan said renovating the depot not only adds to the city's transportation mix, but preserves an important part of its history.

"The depot is the last standing building of the original town, which was on the east side of Sand Creek; every other reference to that town has been demolished either by man or the elements (mostly man!)," she said. "The rehab is the right thing to do and everyone benefits."  

According to Schuck, work could be completed—and the station reopened—by the end of the year.

UPDATE, 9 a.m., Aug. 15: Clarifies funding and adds comments from Sandpoint Mayor Carrie Logan.
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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Idaho Constitution Party Rejects Its Own Candidate For Governor Following Same-Sex Marriage Remarks

Posted By on Wed, Aug 13, 2014 at 1:22 PM

Constitution Party of Idaho withdrew support for Steve Pankey (pictured) after the gubernatorial candidate indicated personal support for same-sex marriage in Idaho. - STEVE PANKEY FOR IDAHO
  • Steve Pankey for Idaho
  • Constitution Party of Idaho withdrew support for Steve Pankey (pictured) after the gubernatorial candidate indicated personal support for same-sex marriage in Idaho.
For a while, Steve Pankey was the Constitution Party of Idaho's candidate for governor. That was until he voiced his personal support of legal same-sex marriage in Idaho. Now, though still running for governor, he no longer has the support of his party or its acting chairman, Floyd Whitley. 

Pankey on May 23 released statements to the Idaho Statesman regarding his opposition to state efforts to preserve Idaho's constitutional ban on gay marriage. On July 28, he received a memo from Whitley chastising him for his position on same-sex marriage.

"The publicly stated, albeit personally held, opinions of Mr. Pankey are an outright defiance of the clearly expressed Platform of the Constitution Party of Idaho, which has, since the inception of this party, been clear as to its principled opposition to homosexual perversion," the memo read.

Pankey disagreed.

"I have not breached any Constitution Party rules. Hopefully, cooler heads will prevail at Convention," he wrote in an email to Whitley, which he later shared with Boise Weekly.

At the Aug. 1-2 Constitution Party convention at the Ashley Inn in Cascade, attended by about 15 party members, Whitley and others stripped Pankey of their support in a 6-2 vote, according to the McCall Star News.

Pankey has since alleged that convention goers were openly hostile to him, and that North Idaho-based minister Scott Hensler was brought to the convention to exorcise him of his support of same-sex marriage. The accusation has been denied by both Hensler and Whitley, with Whitley describing Pankey's statements regarding an exorcism as "disturbed ... phantasmagoric allegations."

Though Pankey lost the Constitution Party endorsement for the November election, his name will still appear on the ballot, according to the Associated Press.

CPI went on to endorse the following candidates:

David Hartigan of Boise, lieutenant governor

Christian Fioravanti of Boundary County, Idaho State Senate

Raymond Writz of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho State Senate

Daniel Weston of Meridian, Idaho House of Representatives

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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

New Luxury Development Coming to Downtown Ketchum

Posted By on Tue, Aug 12, 2014 at 11:18 AM

Ketchum is about to get its latest luxury development with a downtown hotel and residence planned for River and Main streets.

According to the Twin Falls Times-News, the project includes 155,000 square feet, 90 hotel rooms and penthouses, a restaurant and bar, spa, and meeting and convention space. 

KMVT reported that 14 "luxury residences" will be available for purchase on the upper floors, including six penthouses on the fourth floor, accessed by private elevator and "exclusive two-car underground parking."

Developed by Sun Valley-based Trail Creek Fund and designed by San Francisco architects Hornberger + Worstell, the hotel will be managed by Mill Valley, Calif.-based Auberge Resorts Collection.

Construction is expected to begin in May 2015 with a summer 2017 opening date. According to the developer, the project will create 100 full-time jobs during construction and about 80 hotel positions once open.

According to the Idaho Department of Labor, about 24 percent of jobs in Blaine County are leisure and hospitality related, earning an average wage of $20,364 as of 2013. The Labor Department reports that Blaine County—including Ketchum and nearby communities—suffered in the recession, "dramatically cooling building activity in upscale subdivisions and condominium projects."

While Blaine County continues to enjoy the highest per capita income in Idaho, analysts expect continued growth in service sector employment over the decade, "potentially weakening the wage scale."

Trail Creek's downtown development will be the first new lodge built there in about 20 years, the Times-News reports.
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Thursday, August 7, 2014

Mega-Load Could Roll Through Idaho Panhandle as Early as This Weekend

Posted By on Thu, Aug 7, 2014 at 11:34 AM

The Long Bridge across the Pend Oreille River lives up to its name, measuring about 2 miles from end to end. - GOOGLE MAPS SCREEN GRAB
  • Google Maps Screen Grab
  • The Long Bridge across the Pend Oreille River lives up to its name, measuring about 2 miles from end to end.

They’ve crawled up mountainsides, wound their way along rivers and inched across prairies, but everywhere they’ve gone, so-called mega-loads of oil refining equipment bound for the Alberta tar sands have been controversial. Blocked by protest and legal action from using scenic U.S. Highway 12 as a route to Montana and beyond, the oversized shipments have been forced to find alternative passage.

This time, one such load—a 926,000-pound piece of a hydrocracker bound for the Calumet refinery in Great Falls, Mont.—is headed north on U.S. 95, then east on Idaho Highway 200.

The route will take it from Lewiston, climbing the 7-mile U.S. 95 grade, through the Palouse to Moscow, then to Coeur d’Alene and, during its final leg in Idaho, across one of the most unique pieces of infrastructure in Idaho: the 2-mile Long Bridge that stretches across the mouth of the Pend Oreille River and into Sandpoint. From there, it will access Highway 200 and make its way along the twisting, federally designated scenic byway along the eastern shore of Lake Pend Oreille, through Clark Fork and into Montana.

The Idaho Transportation Department confirmed for Boise Weekly that the load, carried by transport company Bigge Crane, has not yet been permitted but could move as early as Saturday, Aug. 9, or Sunday, Aug. 10—likely in the dead of night. The Bigge Crane load replaces a 1.6 million-pound shipment that was set to be moved by Mammoet USA. Instead, Mammoet withdrew its permit and the hydrocracker was broken up into three pieces, with two moved by rail.

No matter the shipper or the time, Helen Yost said protesters from her organization, Wild Idaho Rising Tide, will be there to demonstrate.

“The people in Sandpoint have never, ever been offered a public meeting and people are pretty angry about it,” Yost said. “Highway 95 has served as kind of the sacrifice zone for U.S. 12. … We’re definitely planning protests in Sandpoint.”

Moscow-based Wild Idaho Rising Tide has dogged mega-loads around the state, helping organize road blockades, mounting sign-wielding demonstrations, and documenting mega-load progress since they first started wending through Idaho as part of the Canadian oil boom.

Approximately the size of NASA rockets, the mammoth loads take up two lanes of traffic, travel with an entourage of support vehicles and move at about the speed a person can walk. Their size and speed have been criticized as hampering emergency vehicles, their weight has been blamed for damage to roads and bridges, and their mission has been demonized for supporting the tar sands oil project—what many have called the most environmentally disastrous industrial undertaking on Earth.

“It’s crazy that they’re even trying to move these things through the Mountain West,” Yost said.

According to The River Journal, a monthly news magazine based in Clark Fork, the load moving across the Long Bridge will not only block most of the bridge during its traverse, but its weight will require construction of a temporary, or “jumper,” bridge near the lakeshore hamlet of Hope. Not to mention its potential impacts on the scenic byway itself.

“It’s said to be the heaviest thing to ever be haul on Hwy. 95; the previous record holder only weighed 400,000 pounds,” wrote TRJ Publisher Trish Gannon.

ITD spokesman Adam Rush told BW that “the bridges are a factor” in evaluating the mega-load route, and “there is a lot of research and planning and engineering that goes into that kind of move.”

The Long Bridge span was built in 1981 and stretches 1.1 miles over water, making it one of the longest causeway bridges in the country.

“That’s a lot of weight to put on a bridge that’s out over the water for more than a mile,” Yost said.

Rush said axels on the trailer carrying the load are positioned in such a way as to spread the weight evenly: “It’s not sitting on one focal point." 

Sandpoint Mayor Carrie Logan isn’t worried about it.

“I’m sure they look at what loads all the bridges and ramps can take, and that’s part of the analysis and permitting—what weight can go on the roads,” she told BW.

“It doesn’t disrupt anything for us, unless they break down,” Logan added. “I think the time of night they’re picking to do it, there’s not any activity on the road. The one problem is given how wide it is—I think it’s as wide as the bridge—you worry about emergency vehicles.”

That problem can be mitigated by relying on fire and ambulance services from neighboring communities and the county sheriff’s office, she said.

“I’m not worried about it; I’m just really curious,” Logan said.
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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Yates Elected Idaho GOP Chairman

Posted By on Sun, Aug 3, 2014 at 1:00 PM

Steve Yates, incoming chairman of the Idaho Republican Party. - DCIADVISORY.COM
  • Steve Yates, incoming chairman of the Idaho Republican Party.
The Idaho Republican Party has a new chairman: Steve Yates.

According to the Twin Falls Times-News, Yates beat out contenders Cassia County GOP Chairman Doug Pickett and Blackfoot political activist Mike Duff in a vote held at Boise's Red Lion Hotel Aug. 2. Yates is an Idaho Falls businessman with a federal public policy background, serving as a national security assistant to former Vice President Dick Cheney. His company, D.C. International Advisory, offers political risk analysis and business intelligence services.

The contest for a new Idaho GOP chairman has been in the works since the June Idaho GOP convention in Moscow, when fissures within the party culminated in a breakdown of party leadership.

Last week, Fifth District Court Judge Randy Stoker determined that embattled Idaho GOP Chair Barry Peterson was no longer the leader of the Idaho Republican Party. Peterson, who had sued to stop the Aug. 2 meeting from happening, reportedly changed locks at the Idaho GOP's Boise office following the convention dust up in June.
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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Child Killed by Gunshot Fired By Another Child

Posted By on Thu, Jul 31, 2014 at 9:26 AM

Canal Street, Chubbuck residence were child was shot.
  • Canal Street, Chubbuck residence were child was shot.

Tragedy struck the Bannock County town of Chubbuck Wednesday evening, when police said a 5-year-old girl was killed by a shotgun blast, fired by another child.

The shooting occurred in a home on Canal Street in Chubbuck.

When emergency responders arrived on the scene, the victim was not breathing and EMT's immediately began CPR and the child was rushed to a nearby hospital. The child was pronounced dead a short time later.

Police have not released any names and the investigation continues. Law enforcement said all indications are that the shooting was an accident.

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