In January, it was revealed that taxpayers in Okanogan County had unknowingly donated $1,000 to the American Lands Council (ALC), a long-standing supporter of the transfer of federal public lands to local governments and of the Bundy family’s actions.
But what has been discovered more recently through public document requests is that county taxpayers have actually contributed at least $3,215.97 toward federal lands transfer and related issues since October 2013: $465.97 for county commissioners’ attendance at ALC’s Utah conferences; $750 for related training by affiliated American Stewards of Liberty; and $2,000 for “bronze membership” dues in the ALC. This does not include travel expenses, upcoming yearly dues, nor the $3,500-$5,000 recently requested of our commissioners by the Western Landmark Foundation toward litigation designed to force the nationwide transfer of federal public lands to local governments.
Shall we continue to pay for the commissioners’ pursuit of their personal agendas?
Regardless of any citizen’s opinion of the Bundy family and their beliefs, most of us, regardless of political persuasion, agree with the need for government accountability in expenditure of tax dollars. Should anyone be surprised at the recent increase in citizens’ document requests for county records that could reveal to what extent county resources have gone toward such nationwide agendas while local needs remain unmet?
If the commissioners have a need to pursue their individual political beliefs, shouldn’t they pay personally for memberships, training, or conferences with such organizations? Other public servants, such as teachers, are required to spend significant personal resources on training for career development in areas of their own choosing.
Considering such expenditures, Commissioner DeTro’s recently publicized Facebook statements regarding the tragic Bundy experience, and the commissioners’ history of vacating public roads when requested by local corporations, these commissioners would be last on my list of capable land managers for this county.
The commissioners frequently have open public comment sessions on Tuesday afternoons. Hardly anyone shows up. Do we speak up now, or wait for the November election?
Isabelle Spohn, Twisp
Thirty-odd years ago, Ronald Reagan drove policies that massively reduced government-funded care for the mentally ill, drastically increasing the number of troubled and, um, reality-challenged persons living on our nation’s streets. I questioned these policies at the time, considering them to be, at best, inhumane. It warms my heart that the compassionate citizens of the USA have seen fit to right this wrong, to some degree, by the simple expedient of electing a significant number of these unfortunates to public office.
Alan Fahnestock, Winthrop
It was 20 years ago when I attended a meeting at the town hall in Twisp about a proposed industrial park that was to be constructed on the old Twisp mill site. The mill was gone, unemployment was high and the prospect of jobs for the community was hopeful. There were quite a few local residents at this meeting, and most were in favor of moving forward with the project. The Town of Twisp was all for it, too. We were told that a clothing company was ready to come and start operations. This was all very encouraging.
The Town of Twisp vacated Wagner street in good faith, and this river road and adjoining property were then in the possession of the mill site property owners (this road runs north from the Blackbirds building along the Methow River). A new road was constructed, and water and sewer infrastructure was installed for the future industrial park construction. This infrastructure was paid for by grant monies secured by the Town of Twisp in a public/private partnership with the property owners.
Now, 20 years later, the industrial park has not been built and this property sits empty. What happened here? Is the town in debt due to non-performance? Is the industrial park just a dream or a nightmare?
Recently, a trail system was being proposed that would connect the Twisp River area with parts of the town. This trail would run along the river, along the vacated road I spoke of. This road is held by the same folks that own the site of the proposed industrial park. This trail idea was moving along fine until the last minute when the property owners backed out of the deal due to some fears of not being able to control the situation. This is the same tactic used 20 years ago to stop the industrial park development.
This trail and an industrial park would benefit all of the community and everyone in Okanogan County by providing jobs, recreation and revenue. Let’s move forward.
Jon Francis, Twisp
Wasting our money
The recent unfortunate events at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge remind us that we have a version of this conflict going on here in Okanogan County. According to the Spokesman Review, our county commissioners, on our behalf, have made contributions to the American Lands Council, the group fighting to transfer control of federal public lands to local control.
This troubles us on at least three counts. First of all, the taxpayers of Okanogan County didn’t have an opportunity to comment on this action or in any way have a say in whether we want our taxpayer dollars spent this way. This is not exactly an example of a transparent government.
Secondly, do our county commissioners fully understand what we would be giving up with a transfer of federal lands to local control? The county can’t afford to manage these natural resources (providing fire suppression, weed control, road maintenance, habitat protection, etc.) while maintaining access by local citizens. It seems likely that instead these lands would be leased or privatized as a way to raise money. In the process we would lose our access to pure clean water that supports our communities, local agricultural businesses, family farms, ranches, and healthy fish and wildlife populations. Freedom to explore our vast and beautiful public landscapes for fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, etc., would be curtailed. And the billions of dollars our federal lands inject into our economy would be lost.
And lastly, there is no legal ground in the Constitution or other American legal documents that supports this kind of land transfer. In fact, Washington state is one of 10 Western states that have disclaimed all legal rights and titles to unappropriated public lands as a condition for entering the union.
So, we have to ask, why are our commissioners wasting our taxpayer dollars? Maybe it’s time to be thinking about our next local election and whether these public officials really represent you.
DeeAnn Kirkpatrick and Steve Ralph, Winthrop
Regarding Patagonia’s Jumbo Wild documentary film. Avalanches are the practical reason Jumbo Glacier Resort should not be built, and this documentary shows the slide paths obvious to anyone familiar with their destructive power, and their often-changeable locations. Patagonia’s catalog, advertising this hour-long scenic spectacular, shows them even clearer and up close, but Peter Schaerer, Canada’s foremost senior avalanche technician, is only given a few seconds of screen time. The Mineral King landmark Supreme Court case also ignored the avalanches which made ski lifts irrelevant and ridiculous, but it gave birth to Earthjustice, the nonprofit law firm still active today.
Our own Early Winters ski lift controversy had no avalanche component, but was fought over for many of the same reasons involved with Jumbo and Mineral King. Patagonia and Sweetgrass Productions have otherwise produced a beautifully photographed look at this culturally significant 24-year-long saga. Grizzly bears are featured of course, as skiing yet again showcases the environmental misconceptions and superstitions causing these social dilemmas.
If you go to the Mazama showing of the documentary next Tuesday (Feb. 23) at the community club, be prepared for some drawn-out emotional scenes from both sides, as well as a setting and situations hauntingly similar to our North Cascades. This second showing, like the first on Jan. 28 in Twisp, is sponsored by the Methow Valley Citizens Council, as part of their 40th anniversary celebration.
Eric Burr, Lost Mazama