By Lyndsie Kiebert-Carey
During a special meeting April 27, Bonner County commissioners cast a pair of split votes reinstating a contract for survey work at the Bonner County Fairgrounds and approving a memorandum of understanding that would dedicate contested property between the fairgrounds and sheriff’s complex exclusively for use as a campground. Each of those items drew “yes” votes from Commissioners Luke Omodt and Steve Bradshaw, with Commissioner Asia Williams casting the only vote against both motions.
When Williams brought those items back to the table at the BOCC’s business meeting May 2 — this time moving to undo both actions on the grounds that they allegedly misrepresented facts and did not effectively involve the Fair Board in decision making — her motions never saw a second and therefore failed.
While sparring over the potential location of an RV campground extension at the Bonner County Fairgrounds has been ongoing for nearly a year, the issue ramped up this spring as debate over whether or not to hire outside engineers James A. Sewell and Associates for boundary line adjustment and replatting work produced two camps: Omodt, Bradshaw and some members of the public supporting the RV park be built on a piece of land south of the fairgrounds, which currently straddles fairgrounds and vacant county property; and Williams, Sheriff Daryl Wheeler and a vocal faction of the public claiming that the RV park would be better suited elsewhere on fairgrounds property, and they believe the southern parcel has historically been thought of as the future location of a new justice complex.
The Fair Board has not officially voted on its stance; however, records show members of the board expressing support for keeping the RV campground expansion on already established fairgrounds land.
While Omodt and Williams have consistently been at odds on the issue, Bradshaw changed course in late March when he voted in line with Williams twice to disengage from the survey contract on the contested land, and, in early April, voted in favor of requesting a grant extension from the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation — the grantor facilitating the campground expansion — and to allow the Bonner County Fair Board to choose its own location for the RV park.
The special meeting April 27 saw Bradshaw flip his vote again, this time to reinstate the survey contract and approve a new memorandum of understanding dedicating the contested land to use as a campground rather than for parking, which has been its established use since 2014. That special meeting, while public, was not streamed online, and audio was not made available before press time. The Reader requested comment from Bradshaw regarding why he changed course yet again on the campground matter, but the commissioner did not reply before press time.
The issue arose during the hour-long public comment portion of the May 2 business meeting, with resident Monica Gunter asking why commissioners ever voted to let the Fair Board decide on the RV park’s location if Omodt and Bradshaw intended to move forward with construction on the southern property regardless.
“I’m just asking because it really blows my mind that they are not being involved in this process,” Gunter said, referring to the seven-member Fair Board.
“This has gone around and around and nobody can understand why it is that two of the board’s commissioners are unwilling to allow the development of this campground to be done on existing fair board property,” added resident Doug Paterson. “That point has been made to you again and again, you have these votes to go back and do it your way again and again. Somehow, that does not make even a little sense.”
Omodt said that time is of the essence, as June is the deadline to begin work under the IDPR grant. He presented what he called a “mock-up” of the land being used for both campground and justice complex uses, stating it was created with the help of both Bonner County and Sewell engineers.
Omodt called the potential layout a “win-win” with “acreage that is left over,” and said movement forward was necessary to “even have any possibility of receiving the $473,000” from IDPR, which has previously weighed in with “serious concerns” about whether the project will be completed within time and budget constraints amid the ongoing local debate.
Williams proposed two motions during the May 2 meeting meant to undo the April 27 votes on the engineering contract and campground MOU, and invited Bonner County Deputy Prosecutor Scott Bauer — who represents the Fair Board — to speak to the illegality of those actions.
The MOU in particular, Bauer said, served more as a “statement of intention” by the BOCC than an MOU, because there was no counterparty (the Fair Board) agreeing to its terms. Further, movement forward on any survey work or development without the Fair Board’s consent would go against Idaho Code, Bauer alleged.
“It’s our legal position that proceeding in this manner without the key stakeholder — statutory stakeholder, which is the Fair Board — is a violation of Idaho law,” he said, adding later: “It’s a usurpation of the Fair Board’s power.”
“Nobody is actually arguing not to do the campground — they’re just saying put it in a place that doesn’t exist on encumbered land,” Williams added.
“We’re putting planning aside to say, ‘We have to [move forward] for the grant,’” she continued, “but actually, the easiest answer is to stop doing these memorandums of understanding that are not legal, because the department that issues the grant sees the dysfunction and they don’t feel confident that we can get it done.”
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