OPINION – Clarence Chapman
On page 3 of the Sept. 12 ICFP article entitled “Lochsa: Doing no harm” Andrew Ottoson wrote “Commissioner James Rockwell said such a trade would invite a takings lawsuit from the county.” The fifth amendment states in part: “(N)or shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.”
To have standing as a plaintiff the Rules of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims, which, in DC, is the sole venue for U.S. takings claims, require the plaintiff to be a “Real Party of interest.” See RCFC 17(a)(1). The county does not meet this definition. Further, there is no cause of action as WPT initiated the swap proposal and will receive value-for-value compensation.
Obviously, Rockwell did not research takings cases and his careless statement typifies the ineptness of our commissioners and their disregard for the facts of the land swap.
An old adage states: “Being elected to public office means only one thing — that the elected officials are good at getting elected.” (Made easier by letting them run unopposed). Commissioners are not endowed with extra judgment, intelligence, experience or wisdom just because they are elected. Yet, arrogant commissioners seem to believe that they know better than the rest of us what is good for the county and they push an ideologically based agenda while ignoring salient facts and public opinions.
Not engaging in investigation, data gathering and reasoned decision making, the commissioners initially were concerned unnecessarily about the loss of revenue if more lands became publicly owned.
I addressed and negated this concern Jan. 4 with data from the treasurer, auditor and assessor at a meeting the commissioners attended. In the past federal lands have contributed about one-third more per acre to the county funds in the form of SRS and PILT than taxes on category 6 and 7 timber. The commissioners did not dispute the tax data presented in Assessor Zehner’s presence but have refused stubbornly since to concede this fact.
Next the commissioners said the acre-for-acre swap was about jobs.
They touted the 44-page consulting report by Steven Peterson consisting of two major components: 1) An analysis of the proposed land exchange on Idaho County (done very poorly) and 2) An impact analysis of the wood products industry on the regional economy (done OK). Peterson failed due to poor supervision by the commissioners, his own lack of diligence in not reading the SDEIS and DEIS, in not getting a good understanding of the details of timber demand, logging practices in Idaho County, the details of category 6 and 7 tax regulations, and other omissions such as not visiting the Lochsa site. Prior to my discussions with them, Peterson and commissioners appeared not to know that WPT, as owner of more than 5,000 acres of timber, is required by Idaho Code to pay a “productivity tax” which is nearly the same every year and does not pay a “yield tax” when it harvests.
Messrs. Chmelik and Brandt, railing against federal deficit spending, said publicly on Jan. 4 that there would be no extension of SRS and PILT. As I predicted and contrary to Jim’s and Skipper’s dire predictions, both were extended, thanks not to Crapo, Risch and Labrador, but to Simpson and other reasonable Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
Contrary to the commissioners’ claims that changing public timber to private ownership will quickly create Idaho County jobs, facts show otherwise.
WPT has not harvested the Lochsa since taking ownership. They do not employee the direct workers Peterson predicted because WPT suspended harvests in Idaho County in 2007 when timber prices declined. Their 2006-2007 harvests near Pinehurst sent 61 percent of the 7.7 million board feet out of county, 19 percent out of state. WPT contract logger J.I. Morgan in Adams County created more jobs than were created in Idaho County. Oversized logs — numerous in the forests selected by the commissioners for swap — are sold to mills other than IFP in Grangeville because of that mill’s design.
Upon request I will present to organizations to inform on why we should oppose a legislative override of Brazell’s decision when such an override would give Western Pacific Timber our playgrounds and a windfall of $125 million.
Clarence Chapman of White Bird, is a timber owner and was a business manager who ran small companies and business units of larger ones before retirement. He has an MBA in finance and labor relations.