BURLEY — A fire has gutted an empty building and an unexploded bomb was found across the street in the doorway of a new unopened restaurant as downtown Burley was sent into chaos early Monday.
A boom rumbled the downtown buildings as a bomb squad from Twin Falls detonated the device shortly after 8 a.m. The restaurant, Kassiani Restaurant, Bakery and Events, and the building destroyed by fire, on the west side of Overland Avenue, are both owned by Brek Pilling of Burley.
No one was injured.
At the restaurant, the bomb’s fuse had been lit but it did not detonate, leaving investigators with potentially important evidence. The state fire marshal and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms have joined the investigation, Burley Fire Chief Shannon Tolman said. Firefighters found the bomb while they were working on the blaze across the street.
Meanwhile, authorities are hoping someone may have more information about a suspicious white pickup spotted in the area around the time they believe the bombs were set, likely about 1 a.m., said Cassia County Undersheriff George Warrell.
Even as the sun set Monday, the city’s main thoroughfare resembled a war zone, with authorities mopping up and removing debris from the burned-out shell of the vacant building. The Cassia County Sheriff’s Office shut down Overland Avenue from the 1200 to the 1400 block, concerned about the building’s stability.
Earlier, water and fire foam puddled in the gutters along the west side of Overland Avenue in the 1200 block as bewildered shop owners looked on. At about 10 a.m., barber Andrew Grumbein was able to open his shop in the 1300 block.
“They are allowing people to walk on the sidewalk from 14th Street to 13th Street,” he said.
On Overland Avenue, other businesses were still closed from Main Street to 13th Street while the investigation continued.
Shalee Garner, who owns Straight Stitching a few doors down from the burned building, said she has been unable to even retrieve her computer from the store. She found out about the fire after an employee arrived at 5:30 a.m. and called her. Garner has an extensive inventory of material at the store and is worried about water or smoke damage.
“I could be shut down a month if there is smoke damage,” Garner said. “I hope it’s not too bad.”
A call came into 911 about 1 a.m. reporting smoke and flames coming from the backdoor of the building.
“The fire started inside the building in the back corner by the alley,” said Tolman. “It then ripped through the upper story. The basement of the building is full of water right now.”
Firefighters contained the fire in that building, but it wasn’t immediately clear whether other structures were damaged by smoke and water. The building next door at 1226 Overland Ave. is also owned by Pilling and was damaged by water.
“Both are a total loss,” Tolman said.
WASHINGTON — Brushing aside opposition from the Justice Department, Republicans on the House intelligence committee voted Monday to release a classified memo that purports to show improper use of surveillance by the FBI and the Justice Department in the Russia investigation.
The four-page memo has become a political flashpoint, with President Donald Trump and many Republicans pushing for its release and suggesting that some in the Justice Department and FBI have conspired against the president.
The memo was written by Republicans on the committee, led by chairman Rep. Devin Nunes of California, a close Trump ally who has become a fierce critic of the FBI and the Justice Department. Special counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump's campaign was involved.
Republicans have said the memo reveals grave concerns about abuses of the government surveillance powers in the Russia investigation. Democrats have called it a selectively edited group of GOP talking points that attempt to distract from the committee's own investigation into Russian meddling.
The vote to release the memo is an unprecedented move by the committee, which typically goes out of its way to protect classified information in the interest of protecting intelligence sources and methods. The memo was delivered by courier to the White House on Monday evening. Trump now has five days to object to its release by the committee.
The White House said late Monday that the president will meet with his national security team and White House counsel to discuss the memo in the coming days.
Republicans said they are confident that the release won't harm national security. They also said they would not release the underlying intelligence that informed the memo.
"You'll see for yourself that it's not necessary," said Texas Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, who's leading the House's Russia investigation.
But Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said the panel had "crossed a deeply regrettable line."
"Today this committee voted to put the president's personal interests, perhaps their own political interest, above the national interest," he said, noting that the memo's release could compromise intelligence sources and methods.
While Trump's White House signaled he would likely support the Republican memo's release, his Justice Department has voiced concerns.
In a letter to Nunes last week, Justice officials said releasing the classified memo could be "extraordinarily reckless" and asked to review it. Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd suggested that releasing classified information could damage the United States' relationship with other countries with which it shares intelligence.
After those complaints, FBI Director Christopher Wray reviewed the memo over the weekend.
Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C., who was with Wray when he reviewed the memo, said the FBI director did not raise any national security concerns with him. Gowdy said the memo doesn't reveal any intelligence methods but it does reveal "one source."
But Schiff said that Wray told him Monday that the review didn't satisfy his concerns about the release of the memo. Wray wanted to brief the committee about FBI and Justice Department concerns ahead of any release, a request committee Republicans blocked, Schiff said.
The FBI did not respond to a request for comment Monday evening.
Privately, Trump has been fuming over the Justice Department's opposition to releasing the memo, according to an administration official not authorized to discuss private conversations and speaking on condition of anonymity.
At the behest of Trump, White House chief of staff John Kelly and other White House officials contacted Justice Department officials in the past week to convey the president's displeasure with the department's leadership on the issue specifically, the official said. In a series of calls, Kelly urged the Justice officials to do more within the bounds of the law to get the memo out, the official said.
It still is unclear how exactly when or how the memo will be released.
Conaway said the memo could be released within the five-day window if Trump signals his approval for releasing it. But committee rules don't address how that approval must be given — or what happens if it comes in the form of a tweet.
TWIN FALLS — The Urban Renewal Agency has five years left to make public improvements downtown, and it wants your help picking its next development project.
The agency collects money each year from certain “revenue allocation areas” in Twin Falls. That tax is determined by how much property values in those areas have increased from a base value. The URA then uses the money for public improvements in the same area from where it’s collected.
The URA’s oldest and largest revenue area, called “4-1,” encompasses portions of the downtown and historic warehouse districts. It was created in 1998.
But after 2022, the agency will no longer collect that tax, and the URA won’t be able to make any more public improvements.
At a community workshop from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday, the public is welcome to bring ideas for future downtown projects.
“We want to strategize a little bit on what is going to be the priority for 4-1 as we look for its expiration in 2022,” URA Executive Director Nathan Murray said.
The agency will want to decide whether it should pursue several smaller projects in the next five years, or “Do we want to make a big splash and do a big project?” he said.
The URA also collects money from Clif Bar and Chobani for public improvements on those lands.
One of the agency’s latest projects downtown included last year’s reconstruction of five blocks along Main Avenue. The $6.4 million project was estimated to come in $390,000 under budget.
The URA collected about $1.3 million in the 2016 fiscal year from the downtown area, Murray said. In 2017, that was estimated to rise to $1.6 million. The URA is still paying on some debts from various projects.
Ongoing jobs include work to sidewalks and other public improvements around the Historic Ballroom on Shoshone Street North. The agency also just purchased the Idaho Youth Ranch building for a potential housing project.
And on another corner of Hansen Street East and Main Street East, the $2.4 million Downtown Commons project is underway, to be completed by July with a splash pad, restrooms and amphitheater seating area.
In identifying downtown projects, the URA has to consider what will have the most impact to the community — and will help revitalize property, Murray said.
“It has to be within the public infrastructure or public way,” city spokesman Joshua Palmer said.
Murray has been considering more work along Hansen Street, which could make it a viable corridor in addition to Main Avenue. The street from the library to Red’s Trading Post could be improved to tie in better with the downtown, he said.
Think you have a better idea?
“If people are aware of projects that may exist, come talk to us,” Murray said.
The meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the overflow room on the first floor of City Hall, 203 Main Ave. E.
TWIN FALLS — A local lawyer has been chosen to fill one vacant Fifth Judicial District judgeship.
Ben Cluff of Twin Falls will take the place of now-Idaho Supreme Court Justice Richard Bevan, Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter announced Monday, ending a three-month long application process to fill the seat.
“I’m certainly excited,” Cluff said in a Times-News interview. “I’m anxious to get started.”
Cluff, a graduate of Twin Falls High School, has been a partner with Coleman, Ritchie & Cluff law firm since 2010. Before that, he was associated with local firm Hepworth, Lezamiz & Janis.
After earning a bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University and a law degree from the University of Idaho, Cluff and his wife made a “conscious decision” to move back to the Magic Valley, he said.
“It was somewhere that I thought I could make a difference, and I really have a desire to help the people of the area,” Cluff said.
It’s unknown exactly when the newest Fifth Judicial District judge will start, but it will likely be within the next few weeks, according to trial court administrator Shelli Tubbs. She and Cluff will meet later this week to finalize a start date.
“I know he understands the urgency of the situation we have here in Twin Falls,” Tubbs said.
The judgeship has been open since late September, when Bevan was sworn in as an Idaho Supreme Court justice. Since then, the district has relied on other current and retired district judges to cover Bevan’s duties. “Justice Bevan leaves big shoes to fill in the Fifth Judicial District,” Otter said in a statement. “But the Magic Valley also has a history of producing some of Idaho’s finest jurists, so I’m confident that Ben Cluff will perform at a high level on the bench.”
The appointment fills one of two vacant judgeships in the Fifth Judicial District. The other, left by the death of Judge Randy Stoker earlier this month, will not be filled before the upcoming district judge election.