By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
It’s been nearly a year since a grant from the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation launched a debate over the future of property located between the fairgrounds and sheriff’s office. Would the parcel be home to an expanded RV campground, or a new-and-improved justice complex?
Now, the Fair Board has weighed in with an unequivocal denial of the $500,000 grant. In letters penned to the community, grantor IDPR and the board of Bonner County commissioners, the Bonner County Fair Board has announced that it will not accept the money or support any forward movement on the project as proposed. Whether the board has the authority to make such a move, though, remains up for debate among county officials.
In the letter addressed to the community and posted May 18 to the Bonner County Fairgrounds Facebook page, Fair Board members stated that “at this time, we have not had the opportunity to be a part of the planning for the proposed RV campground,” and therefore voted to send letters to IDPR and the county commissioners “informing them that the grant was not in our planning.”
“This is against the Idaho Code for Fairgrounds,” the letter concluded. “We hope you, as the community, understands why we cannot accept the grant and be a part of it at this point in time.”
In an email sent May 17 to IDPR North Region Grants Specialist Tiffany Brunson, Deputy Prosecutor Scott Bauer — who serves as legal counsel to the Fair Board — said that according to Idaho Code regarding “Duties of the County Fair Board,” the Fair Board “must conduct planning, including land-use planning as it relates to fair purposes.” According to Bauer, the Fair Board “has had insufficient planning involvement in this proposed project to satisfy [the Code’s] planning requirements.”
“The [Fair Board] does not believe it is good practice for a state agency to move forward with funding a project that may otherwise be in violation of state law,” Bauer wrote to Brunson.
The Fair Board’s Facebook post garnered comments from community members who pointed to past agendas in which items about the RV park expansion did appear as evidence that the board was a part of the planning process.
Asked about this, Bauer told the Reader that in order for the Fair Board and BOCC to be in compliance with Idaho Code, a formal plan for the RV park would have needed to be filed with both the fair and commissioners’ offices.
“This is quite different than the Fair Board being informed and allowed to ask questions,” he said.
Bonner County Commissioner Luke Omodt, in particular, has been a vocal proponent of moving forward with the campground expansion on the contested parcel. He has pointed several times to a memorandum of understanding signed by both Fair Board Chairman Eddie Gordon and BOCC Chairman Steve Bradshaw in March, which indicated that “as the fee-simple owner of the fairgrounds, the County shall be solely responsible for all grants which may affect or impact that property, and the Board of County Commissioners shall be the entity responsible for grant application, administration and compliance.”
Bauer said that the Fair Board has not breached that MOU by denying the grant because the MOU also notes compliance with the Idaho Code regarding “Duties of the County Fair Board.”
“IDPR will likely understand this,” he said.
Meanwhile, the clock is ticking on the county’s ability to access the grant at all. Despite Omodt and Chairman Steve Bradshaw voting May 16 to submit an extension request for the funds, IDPR Public Information Officer Craig Quintana told the Reader that as of May 23, no such request had been received. In April, IDPR informed the county that the project would need to be out to bid and cost estimates obtained by June 2023 in order to stay within the grant’s budget and time constraints.
“IDPR is hesitant to approve a grant extension given the current conditions,” Quintana said, confirming that the department had received “communication from the Bonner County Fair Board expressing opposition to the campground project.”
“The letter from the Bonner County Fair Board, along with other recently received input, will be evaluated moving forward,” Quintana told the Reader. “Bottom line: No decisions have been made, but our concerns about this project’s viability continue to grow.”
Commissioner Asia Williams said the Fair Board’s letter to IDPR prompted her to place an item on the May 23 business meeting agenda to disengage from a contract with engineers James A. Sewell and Associates for a boundary line adjustment meant to prepare the contested property for the RV park expansion.
“It is reasonable that given the fact that the Fair Board has indicated that they do not want to move forward with this request, that the board of county commissioners disengage the lot line adjustment,” Williams said, later adding: “Even if we were able to achieve the grant itself, there’s no way that this commission can force the Fair Board … to install an RV campground on that location.”
Williams’ motion to disengage from the Sewell contract died without a second, and drew no discussion from Bradshaw and Omodt.
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