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County Watch, 2013 in Review by Jan Neish

Island Park News of Island Park, Idaho

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Sometimes the pathway ahead is clearer if we revisit briefly where we have recently been. With that purpose, here is a summary of Fremont County accomplishments for 2013.

Starting at the "top", a major change this year has been the beginning of Commissioner Bill Baxter's and County Prosecutor Karl Lewies' terms of service. For Baxter this started "late" in that he physically couldn't get to his car due to a power outage in Ashton. But, being the dedicated public servant that he is, he broke a window in his garage and climbed through to reach his car and soon thereafter arrive at the courthouse. No sled dogs were available for an alternative source of transportation.

Lewies had an uneventful swearing in but has had a succession of prosecuting deputies starting with only a few weeks of Billie Jean Siddoway, then nearly a year of Ryan Dustin and Richard Friess, and now Brock Bischoff. Perhaps 2014 will bring more steadiness of personnel and continued effectiveness.

Though Planning and Building Administrator Tom Cluff and Public Works Director Brandon Harris came on board at the end of 2012, in many ways they were still settling in at the beginning of last year. And ending the year was the recent replacement of Dan Lostut-ter with Jon Brown at the Sewer Department and the addition of Kathy Sharp at the Ashton Senior Center. (Speaking of the Senior Center, they received a new roof this year, thanks to Commissioner Jordon Stoddard's careful attention. He has also made sure the fairgrounds were rewired safely and new bleachers installed.)

The less obvious personnel additions have been the new P & Z commissioners - Lila Gold, Tom Howell of Chester, and Kim Ragotzkie - and the reinstatement of current commissioners - Cathy Stegelmeier, Rod Nichols, and Patti Crapo. The P & Z Commission has spent the year revisiting the Development Code as mandated and realizing it may need a major overhaul in 2014. Besides guiding the P&Z, Cluff has also been navigating the paperwork and management of the HUD grant that is in its 2nd of 3 years -not an easy task with bureaucrat and sequester obstacles.

County wide there have been some landmarks achieved this year, such as the Fall River Electric reaching their 75th year and the Henry's Fork Watershed Council achieving their 20th year of collaboration. Also, for the first time state legislators toured Fremont County as part of their annual Chamber tour. Concerning the courthouse as a landmark building in the state, the St. Anthony Rotary Club has initiated an annual fine art competition to "dress" the walls in a way befitting the architecture and heritage of the courthouse. The first painting, on the topic of early trappers, was hung this last July.

In June, national attention came to Fremont County when the Department of Interior toured Island Park's Sustainable Fire Community Project, the first of its kind. Approximately 20 people from D.C. and many from the state came to learn from Emergency Management Keith Richey and Forest Ranger Liz Davy about a grass roots approach to fire risk management.

Additionally, HUD officials came this last fall to tour the Caldera concerning the burgeoning National Monument discussions and a resulting proposal for a study committee of the area's potential. Perhaps this is the place to note that in 2013 Island Park "dodged" the massive development plans of out of state investors for a second time.

Another landmark, of the less desirable kind, was the recent closure of the Ashton Fish Hatchery, due to low water levels and even lower money funds. In a similar vein for those in Wilford, the Stoddard Brothers Gravel pit extraction and manufacturing permits were finally granted after much controversy over compatibility with neighboring homes.

However, in the controversy involving Island Park and snowmobile registrations, the county — read Parks and Rec Director Tamra Cikaitoga — held their own against the state wishes. It remains to be seen what the new legislative session will bring on this crucial issue for Fremont County's economy.

Another crucial area of the economy, Henry's Lake boating and fishing, were protected in 2013 by the largesse of Henry's Lake Foundation and Henry's Fork Foundation who ensured boat washes for invasive species all 7 days of the week. With the infection of Lake Powell, this protection became vital and at present Henry's Lake remains free of mussels and milafoil. Weeds Director Bryce Fowler was also busy this summer with "holding the line" by spraying 4800 acres for leafy spurge throughout the county.

Communications upgrades were vital for the Sheriff Department and EMS Department. The later upgraded to a 700 Hz system in order to have adequate EMS communications in the Ashton area. A happy bonus happened when the "extra" radios of the EMS Dept. could be used by the snow groomers for their communications this winter. In a different kind of communications upgrade, the courthouse has gone wireless with its internet, including a guest wireless connection. The county fleet of vehicles is enormous, sometimes literally if you include all the road and bridge equipment. A 2013 addition, however, was unusual: a new ambulance for the Island Park area, complete with a state-of-the-art transfer sling. Another EMS activity this past year involved negotiating the design and financing of an equipment and office building at the Sand Dunes. Still in the design phase, the building would house rescue equipment needed at the Dunes, as well as offices for volunteers and BLM on-site personnel.

Before leaving the roads and vehicles, in 2013 the county also negotiated a cost saving and supportive policy concerning fuel supply with the school district for the Ashton and Island Park areas. Tanks and pumps were assessed and repaired and fuel was purchased in bulk to serve both entities.

Also in Ashton, the traffic issue of Highway 20 was addressed last year, finally, and thankfully before any serious accidents. The state ITD listened to concerned citizens, studied the area, and installed clearer signs and a flashing sign to facilitate the left hand turn into the Ashton Hills development area. Most people don't know that this concern originated with and was initially facilitated by the Fremont County Smart Growth Coalition, which has since disbanded. The homeowners are still looking for a more permanent solution and for ITD to extend the double yellow lines further up the hill.

Three major Road and Bridge projects were started last year and nearly completed: Transfer Station in St. Anthony, the Mack's Inn Sewer spray field expansion, and the Stone Bridge east of Ashton. All are slated to finish in 2014. What isn't online is the regional Waste to Fuel project in DuBois. That hope for solid waste management is on hold at present. Holding the line on the waste of taxpayers money, Treasurer J'Lene Cherry outsourced tax notice mailing to save the county in postage costs. She has also been able to locate and process six more properties back onto the tax rolls.

And the final gold star of achievement for 2013 goes to the citizens of Island Park that paid their LID bills in full, which allowed the county to pay it off 3 years early. Now all remaining LID payments will go into a reserve fund for future development needs of the sewer. Such a reserve fund proved vital this year to avoid the cost and pain of a LID for the Mack's Inn sewer upgrade.

All in all, it appears that the county is ready for 2014. Bring it on!

Copyright 2014 Island Park News, Island Park, Idaho. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

Original Publication Date: January 2, 2014

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