After weeks of study and consultation, Boundary County Commissioners today invoked federal law to be included as participants in the process currently underway to designate over 600-square-miles of North Idaho and eastern Washington as critical caribou habitat, not by demanding, but by agreeing that they will coordinate with all federal and state agencies on matters affecting the citizens of Boundary County so as to protect the public interest.
All three commissioners this afternoon signed Boundary County Resolution 2012-9, citing their exercise of local police power to protect public health, safety and welfare as granted under the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, the exercise of which "requires that all federal agencies engage in the coordination process with this county."
"It is hereby resolved," commissioners wrote, "that Boundary County establishes the policy that it will engage in the coordination process with all federal agencies and with all state agencies,
"It is further resolved that since Congress defined the coordination process in the Federal Land Policy Management Act, and the United States Supreme Court has ruled that when Congress defines a term, the term means the same in any statute that is in pari-materia, it is the policy of this County that it will engage in the coordination process as defined by Congress in FLPMA."
"Pari-materia" is a Latin term used in law meaning "of the same matter," or "on the same subject," used in connection with two laws relating to the same subject matter that must be analyzed with each other.
Shortly after adopting the resolution, county commissioners approved a letter, sent by email to U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Idaho State Officer Brian Kelly, acknowledging that the county had taken the official step of adopting the resolution necessary to invoke their intent to coordinate with that federal agency and requesting to move forward with "a meeting which will begin the interactive communication required for meaningful coordination."
Commissioners have requested that the USFWS participate in at least two public meetings during which they could explain the ramifications and potential impacts of their proposal.
These meetings will be widely advertised so that everyone interested will know the purpose of the meeting.
After those "meetings," commissioners recommend, there will then take place at least two "public hearings," during which the citizens affected by the proposal, armed with the facts, will be given the opportunity to air their concerns to those who are charged with making a final federal decision.
Thanks to the efforts of local officials throughout the impacted areas, the USFWS has all but formally agreed to extend a nearly impossible deadline for public comment, initially set for January 31, for at least 60 days.
Thanks to the efforts of Boundary County Commissioners, working with the KVRI, the USFWS, whose representatives appeared stunned by the vociferous outcry expressed January 9, as they expected only an informational meeting with a dedicated group of people they have worked with for years largely outside the public eye, may now have a better understanding of the concerns of the community, and they will be better able to prepare their information and data so as to provide the detailed information the citizens of Boundary County are demanding and need.
The citizens of Boundary County, with that information at hand, will then be better able to express their many and varied concerns over how the proposal might affect their interests during formal public hearings, and those many and varied concerns will become unassailable parts of the formal record once the decision is made … concerns that have to be taken into account or be considered on appeal.
"There has been tremendous concern raised in Boundary County, where most of this critical habitat is proposed, about what this proposal will do to the people here as regards its impact on the local economy, recreation, limitations on how that land may be used and accessed, how our emergency service providers can go about responding to situations on these lands when fire breaks out or when someone's life is on the line," commission chair Ron Smith said. "We're looking for a lot of answers, and we look forward being able to present the questions.
Before calling it a day, commissioners called Mr. Kelly and he acknowledged that he had the letter in hand and that he was looking at the dates commissioners proposed for the meetings, beginning in February.
"We don't have confirmation on those dates as yet," Smith said, "but we do have confirmation from Mr. Kelly that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is going to work with us. Once the dates are set, we will do everything we can to let everyone know where, when and how everyone interested can become involved so that our voices are effectively heard when the final decision is made, and what our options are should anyone not be satisfied with the decision."
"Many other counties in the Western states are now invoking coordination authority," the Boundary County commission letter reads. "In some of them the step is being taken because of poor relationships between the county and other agencies and their staffs. Fortunately, we do not have that problem. Rather, we look forward to a productive and long-term coordination relationship built upon the solid relationship which has been established."
Based on the immediate and positive response, it appears that the citizens of Boundary County are going to get a hearing. Thanks to the coordinated effort of the various diverse groups who participate in the efforts of the Kootenai Valley Resource Initiative, it appears that the voice has the potential to make a difference.
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