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Officer Denies 1 of 4 Water Transfers, Hafliger Neighbors Rejoice

FILER • Neighbors of Hank Hafliger’s dairies were doing a victory dance Friday after learning their water wells are safe for now.

Hafliger had planned to purchase and transfer water rights from Thomas Leno’s ranch north of Jackpot, Nev., to his dairy farms south of Filer. More than two dozen neighbors protested his applications to the Idaho Department of Water Resources, saying if the transfers are approved, Hafliger’s increased water consumption would draw down the aquifer and dry up their domestic water wells.

James Cefalo, IDWR hearing officer from Idaho Falls, ruled in favor of Hafliger in three of the transfers, but denied the crucial fourth application, which would have put his neighbors’ water wells most at risk, they said.

“It goes to show that we have to stand up for what is ours,” said Delea Andrew, one of the protesters. “We fought this on our own and we won.”

Hafliger, who declined to comment on Friday, applied for three separate water transfers from an area in the Eastern Snake Plain Aquifer some 35 miles south of his dairies. He also applied to transfer one of his own water rights from one well near Filer to another.

The transfers, protesters said, would affect their water quality, water quantity and quality of life.

“We’ve all learned to be pretty fugal with water out here,” said Pam Ritter, another protester. That’s why Hafliger’s application were such a slap in the face, she said.

“It’s been very stressful,” Ritter said. “There were many times I woke up in the night worried if I’d have water the next day.”

The battle also has been costly for the group of neighbors.

“Between all of us, it cost several thousand dollars just to file a protest,” Ritter said.

Some of the protesters hired lawyers and expert witnesses to describe how water from the Leno ranch would not flow underground toward Hafliger’s dairies. Cefalo heard two days of testimony from Hafliger’s attorneys and witnesses, as well as testimony — often emotional — from protesters, their attorneys and witnesses.

“This is a victory,” said Eric Parrott, whose family has ranched in the area for six generations. “What we did will affect (our kid’s lives).”

Cefalo’s opinion will now go to IDWR Director Gary Spackman, who will make the department’s final decision on all four transfers. Those decisions can be appealed.


Blaine County Schools Face $1.5M Reserve Deficit

HAILEY | The Blaine County School District could face a nearly $1.5 million reserve fund deficit in two years.

Revenues for the general fund — which pays for teacher salaries and student programs — have remained fairly flat for eight years.

But expenses are increasing, and have outpaced money coming in by $1 million to $3 million per year since 2010.

School officials predicted the shortfall several years ago, Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes said. But now they’re moving forward to avoid a deficit.

“This is not a new situation,” she said Friday. “It is a new realization for a few people.”

Blaine County’s school board sent a letter Tuesday to employees, students and parents about the budget.

“In the face of this situation, the Board’s goal is to work toward balancing the General Fund budget so as to avoid a deficit in two year’s time,” the letter said. “Our objective is to maximize the utilization of financial resources while ensuring the best outcome for students.”

Originally, school officials estimated fund balance would last until 2012-13, said business manager Mike Chatterton.

At that time, they planned to pursue voter approval for a supplemental levy, he said. “We were able to push off for several years.”

School trustees will continue to talk about the budget, Holmes said. “They will need to develop some guiding principles going forward on this budget issue."

They’ll look at which areas to protect and which cuts may be necessarily.

“The board still wants to maintain low class sizes,” Chatterton said, and keep Advanced Placement class offerings.

School trustees will also look at how to boost revenue. One way to do that: improving attendance, Holmes said.

The Blaine County School District — which has about 3,400 students — estimates $51.2 million in general fund expenses for 2015-16.

By comparison, the much-larger Twin Falls School District — with about 9,000 students — is projecting about the same amount, with $51.4 million in expenses.

But the two districts have different funding models. All Idaho school districts used to receive part of their money from local property tax revenue.

But in 2006, state legislators changed the system to base funding on state income and sales taxes instead.

However, four resort-area districts — including Blaine County — collected more in property tax revenue than what they’d receive under the revised state system.

As a result, they were exempted and a budget stabilization levy was created without voter approval.

The Blaine County district continues to receive property tax revenues based on 2006 valuations.

“We were able to bank money because we were not spending everything collected,” Holmes said. But in 2011, the district started tapping into reserve funds.

“By then, the costs of doing business had increased and exceeded what we were bringing in under that stabilization levy,” Holmes said, such as increases in employee salaries and benefits.

Plus, in 2013-14, the district racked up more than $600,000 in legal fees, Idaho Education News reported May 28.

But that money came out of the plant facilities fund — not the general fund, Chatterton said, so it didn’t impact reserve money.

A large portion of legal costs came from a May 2012 lawsuit filed by McKinstry Essention Inc. over a dispute about energy-retrofit work.

The contract with the school district included a fixed maximum price of $15.1 million. But McKinstry sued, seeking $6.5 million over that amount.

In October 2013, they reached a settlement. The district agreed to pay $665,612 for work completed. McKinstry dropped their claims and paid $800,000 toward the district’s legal fees.

The dispute was over the amount the company would be paid for a multimillion-dollar project to update heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems in eight school district buildings.


State Ed Department Chooses Preferred Technology Vendor

BOISE • The Idaho Department of Education decided Dell will be its preferred vendor to provide Microsoft IT Academy products and services.

The programs will be used in up to 253 public schools and 145 public libraries.

State officials plan to enter into contract negotiations with Dell with the expectation of launching the program by July 1.

The program to offer Microsoft IT Academy to Idaho’s students and citizens is in response to S1189, passed by this year’s Legislature.

It appropriated one-time funds to provide technology education opportunities and information technology certifications for those seeking to improve their job skills marketability.

Each library and school will decide whether to opt into the program.

The Microsoft IT Academy package provides training and certifications at the specialist, expert and master levels in Office 2010 and Office 2013.

In addition, the academy offers a Microsoft technology associate certification in computer science and Microsoft certified solutions developer (MCSD) certifications for Windows Store apps using C# and Web applications.


CSI Starts New Session for Industrial Maintenance

TWIN FALLS • The College of Southern Idaho will start a one-year session of its industrial maintenance technology program June 15.

Certification satisfies entry requirements for many jobs in processing, manufacturing and mining industries.

Classes run 5-9 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays for one year.

Students will receive foundational skills in blueprint reading, problem solving, rigging, vibration analysis, installation and maintenance of mechanical equipment, basic welding, hydraulic and pneumatic systems, mechanical drives, OSHA safety and CPR, industrial tools and equipment, electronics, repair and fabrication, shaft alignment and preventive maintenance.

The cost of the course is $1,000 per session – summer, fall and spring. Fees can be paid per session. The course textbook is $300.

Students looking for scholarships to help pay for tuition and fees should apply before June 10.

Scholarships are also being offered by Newmont Mining in Elko, Nev., one of the world’s largest mining companies. Entry-level employees at Newmont with industrial maintenance certification earn $26 per hour, plus benefits.

For more information, contact Brandi Turnipseed at 208-732-6378 or bturnipseed@csi.edu


Vietnam Vets to Be Recognized in Twin Falls Today

TWIN FALLS • The area’s Vietnam War veterans will be honored in Twin Falls Saturday.

The Vietnam War Veterans Commemoration will kick off with a motorcycle procession in the downtown Twin Falls area at 11 a.m.

Then, the celebration will go into the evening in Twin Falls City Park, with food, music, a beer garden and speakers.

Hospice Visions and the Magic Valley Veterans Association organized the event, with the help of numerous other veterans’ groups.

They hope to hold a similar event every year for the next 10, which will mark the 50th anniversary of America’s withdrawal from Vietnam.


Groundbreaking Planned for Pillar Falls Elementary

TWIN FALLS • A groundbreaking ceremony is slated for next month for the new Pillar Falls Elementary School.

The ceremony is 1 p.m. July 7. Students from neighboring schools will break ground at the school site.

Community members are invited to attend. Pillar Falls Elementary will be constructed at the northeast corner of Stadium Boulevard and Hankins Road in Twin Falls.

The school will have a 650-student capacity and will serve students from preschool to fifth grade. It opens in fall 2016.

It’s among three new schools that will open within two years, thanks to a nearly $74 million bond voters approved in March 2014.

A groundbreaking ceremony for another new elementary school — Rock Creek Elementary — took place May 26 and construction is already underway.

New school boundaries haven’t been created. The Twin Falls School District is putting together a process to draw boundaries by January 2016.

This will include bringing in an outside facilitator, using technology to predict where students will be in fall 2016, and forming a committee of parents and community members to help drive the process.

Anyone interested in taking part in re-zoning work may contact Eva Craner at 208-733-6900.


Blaze Destroys Businesses in Heart of Idaho City

IDAHO CITY • Calamity Jayne’s, Sarsaparilla Ice Cream Parlor, Main Street Floral and Candle Shop, Old Time Photo and Idaho City Trading Post all were a hub for tourism on the brink of the summer season. All five businesses were completely destroyed by a fire sparked early Friday morning, along with one vacant storefront on the north end of the block.

Idaho City Fire Chief Terry Teeter said it took about four hours of work by four different fire agencies, 7 fire engines and 25 firefighters to extinguish the four-alarm blaze that started at about 2:45 a.m. Idaho City firefighters remained on scene all day to work with an Idaho fire marshal. The investigation into the cause of the fire could take weeks, Teeter said.

A full damage estimate wasn’t available Friday, but the Boise County Assessor’s Office valued the entire complex at about $311,000.

It was “just a standard structural fire: once it lights it goes,” Teeter said.

Idaho City resident Brandy Burtlow said the flames lit up the whole community.

“You could have driven down the highway with your lights off,” she said.

Rhonda Jameson, who has lived in Idaho City for 23 years and owns the Simply Fun toy shop on Main Street, said she heard the town sirens going off at about 3 a.m.

From her balcony window, she saw the flames.

“The flames were way, way, really, really high,” Jameson said. “The power lines were crackling.”

She and her husband threw on their clothes and went out to wake neighbors who were still sleeping, despite the roar of the fire. Within 10 minutes, the fire had gone all the way down the boardwalk, Jameson said.

“Once we felt like everybody was awake, we came back in and started calling everyone that had businesses,” Jameson said.

The History

Randy Barrett co-owns the entire destroyed block with his wife, Toni. “Forty years of my life is here,” he said. “This is a major change for all of Idaho City.”

He and resident Bill Stirling recalled building the string of stores over the past four decades. It started when Stirling bought the land in 1972.

“That side of Main Street (had) nothing on it,” Stirling said, pointing to the recently burned block. It was “kind of a swamp.”

Barrett bought the land and three businesses from Bill Stirling in 1984. He incorporated two Forest Service buildings dating from the 1920s into the parcel, now called the “Vigilante Complex.” Preserving the history of the community and sharing it with locals and tourists was meaningful work, Barrett said.

Recently, Barrett planned to sell the block and had reached a deal with prospective buyers just two weeks ago. He called them Friday morning and showed them photos of the destruction. He understood when they backed out of the deal, he said.

He contacted his insurance and expects them to help rebuild, but he’s concerned for his renters who lost their buildings and inventory they planned to push for the summer season, the community’s biggest economic time of year.

Fire has ravaged other Idaho City businesses in recent years: Donna’s Place, which is across the street from the boardwalk, burned down in 2004 and 2010. Trudy’s Kitchen was gutted by fire in 2008.

Friday’s fire burned the boardwalk businesses but it stopped before spreading to the historic Mercantile and Boise County Courthouse, which date back to the late 1800s.

“Them buildings were really old,” Stirling said of the gutted buildings he had helped assemble.

His wife, Joan, spoke of seeing hard work devoured by flames: “It hurts pretty bad for him to see what he built burn down.”

The Future

Three events in June all bring much-needed business to Idaho City: the Idaho Rally International, Gold Dust Rodeo and Idaho City Frontier Days.

“That’s a good amount of money every weekend that (owners of the burned businesses) are missing out on,” said Ashley Elliott, who works at Calamity Jayne’s on the weekends. “Maybe this whole town will miss out on it if this boardwalk isn’t here to stop at.”

Those business owners include Randy Barrett’s brother, Jim, who runs Calamity Jayne’s but couldn’t stand visiting the scene after the fire was out.

“This means everything for my dad. This is his livelihood,” said John Barrett, Jim’s son.

“Calamity Jayne’s is the oldest single-owned business in Idaho City. He’s the only owner out here that’s continually owned the business since back in the ’70s,” Randy Barrett said.

This would have been Becky Gilbert’s sixth summer running Sarsaparilla Ice Cream Parlor and Main Street Floral and Candle. Nine of her employees are now out of work.

“I loved that shop,” she said, fighting back tears.

Randy Barrett purchased the ice cream shop in 1984. Since, it has connected the business community to the high school, he said.

“We’ve hired over 100 students here going through for their first jobs,” he said.

Jameson, the toy shop owner, spoke of a recent sound economy, with seven new or reopening businesses moving into the town.

The fire put local business owners on edge, she said, and she worried about a “ripple effect” on other businesses in the area.

“ ‘Do I have a business? I don’t know.’ People wake up and they didn’t have a place to go to work,” she said.

One of those new businesses would be Wallula’s, a coffee shop to be started by Bill and Connie Gillenwater, who moved to Idaho City just two weeks ago from Columbus.

Bill Gillenwater said that when he heard the commotion Friday morning, he rushed out of his house with water bottles for the firefighters. When he saw what was happening he took video with his phone. But he also felt a lump in his throat that convinced him this community was his new home, he said.

Only one thing wiwll delay the couple from forging ahead with their coffee shop, said Connie Gillenwater.

“If our friends need our help, it may push (opening) back,” she said.

By late afternoon Friday bulldozers had pushed much of the debris from the fire off the road and a wire fence surrounded the entire complex. Teeter said the hands-on part of the investigation might not wrap up until Saturday.

“This is the main portion of Idaho City. Without it, it’s going to change everything,” Randy Barrett said. “We just don’t know what’s going to become of it now. Hopefully we can make things happen again and get it started back up.”


Bergdahl Wants Court to Disqualify Courts-martial General

WASHINGTON (AP) | Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier who left his post in Afghanistan and was held by the Taliban for five years, is asking a military appellate court to disqualify the general with broad discretion in his case.

Bergdahl's attorney, Eugene Fidell, says Bergdahl filed the request Friday in the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals in Washington.

Bergdahl wants the court to disqualify Gen. Mark Milley because he has a personal interest in being confirmed as the next Army chief of staff.

The Idaho native, who is charged with desertion, was exchanged last year for five senior Taliban officials held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Bergdahl's preliminary hearing, which is similar to a civilian grand jury, is set for September. From there, his case could be referred for trial.