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Jerome County running out of time to apply for grant money for canyon park

JEROME — Development of the landlocked Snake River Canyon Park north of the river may be delayed if the county can’t get the Idaho Department of Lands on board.

Time is running out for Jerome County to apply for Idaho Parks and Recreation grants to develop the park, said Ryan Lay, a land consultant working with the county. This round of grant applications are due in January.

No physical barriers block entrance to the 4,000-acre park, but in order to fund and develop the park, Jerome County needs to secure legal access to the property, which can only be reached by way of endowment land owned by the IDL. That’s land currently used for cattle grazing to produce income for public schools.

The park is a 6.25-square-mile block of land owned by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management north of the Snake River — roughly from the canyon rim to Interstate 84 and from U.S. 93 to near Devils Corral. The park has been a possibility since Jerome County signed lease agreements with the BLM in 2003 and 2007, but locals have been talking about building a north rim park for decades.

The state’s endowment land is a narrow strip between the canyon’s north rim and the park. The only paved road through the area is the east/west Shoshone Falls Road that runs from U.S. 93 through IDL ground to Idaho Power Co.’s hydroelectric plant at the falls. The park, formerly called the North Rim Park, also includes a landlocked 20-acre parcel owned by the BLM overlooking Shoshone Falls.So far, the IDL has tentatively granted the county access to BLM land south of the interstate, but has not granted access to the 20 acres at the canyon rim, where the county would like to see a scenic overlook built.

“IDL has come to an agreement with BLM regarding two easements for access,” spokeswoman Sharla Arledge told the Times-News in an email. “As I am sure you are aware our priority and constitutional responsibility is to do what is best for the endowment beneficiaries. What has been proposed for a third access (to the overlook) has not been in the endowment’s best interest, however, we are still in discussion, trying to find a solution that works.”

Commissioner Roger Morley is befuddled by the IDL’s stand on the overlook site.

“I take constitutional responsibility very seriously,” Morley said, “but I can’t see how granting access to the overlook site would violate the IDL’s mission.”

For decades, the public land north of the Snake River has been more of a liability than an asset. The commissioners say developing the park would change that.

A 42-year-old letter from then-Sheriff Elza Hall asked the IDL for help “dealing with the many abuses and misuses of the state land,” Lay said. According to the sheriff, the land had become dangerous dumping grounds where bikers terrorized cattle grazing in the area.

“Clearly all of the abuses still exist on the north rim,” Lay said.

Recently a stray bullet hit a Jerome woman’s car as she was driving with her children on Shoshone Falls Road, Morley said as he held a photo of the bullet hole.

Recreational shooting and hunting allowed on the state endowment land make it unsafe, Commissioner Charlie Howell said. He’s personally experienced near misses as bullets have flown by him on the IDL property.

“It’s dangerous to all people around,” Howell said, who met with the IDL last winter to try to curtail shooting on state land. The county’s park would allow shooting in a safe, secluded area away from others using the land.

Howell plans to make another appeal to the IDL this week and will send photos of mounds of litter in the desert, children riding bicycles near a target shooter — and of the bullet hole in the car — to plead his case.

“Granting us access would create a safe zone” for recreation, Morley said, “and a better environment for cattle grazing.”

New Gooding councilmen, mayor show optimism for city’s future

TWIN FALLS — Residents of Gooding have decided to oust their City Council and mayoral incumbents, and bring in new blood to the city government.

Come January, Walt Nelson, Diane Houser and Mel Magnelli will vacate their seats on the five-member council. Jeff Brekke, Chuck Cram and Colin Smith will take their place.

The overall voter turnout for Gooding County elections was about 24 percent — higher than it was in Twin Falls County.

Although challengers say they were not sponsored by a specific group, they tasked voters with an all-or-nothing decision, to say with their votes that they either liked the current Council — or did not.

Brekke defeated Nelson with 236 votes, more than 56 percent of the total votes cast in the mayoral election.

The mayor-elect said his biggest push is to give voters what they said they wanted in electing the three challengers.

“They want openness, and they want the sense of optimism,” Brekke said.

He said the new Council will have no closed meetings, except regarding human resources or legal disputes. The members will also be open to new ideas.

“Our main commonality is we want to see things move forward,” he said. “The previous Council was known for shutting people down, shutting ideas down.”

A recent example, he said, was incumbents’ response in a recent candidate forum to the challengers’ ideas for improving Main Avenue. The incumbents had said roadwork couldn’t be done by the city because it was a state highway.

“We weren’t talking about the roadway,” Brekke said. “We were talking about the businesses.”

He believes the city of Gooding can work with civic groups to help beautify buildings in the downtown corridor, clean people’s yards and repair sidewalks. Even straightening and painting street signs can have a better visual effect for visitors, Brekke said.

He added that the challengers were more optimistic in the campaign about Gooding’s future for businesses and residents. Because of the city’s railway and access to major highways, he said, it’s well situated geographically for growth.

“We are excited that Gooding has faith in us and in the plans that we put forward,” Smith said.

Smith and Cram defeated Magnelli and Houser with 254 and 271 votes to their 209 and 211 votes, respectively.

Smith told the Times-News the city can be more transparent on its website and through a newsletter and social media.

But he and the other challengers’ goal, he said, isn’t to “take a 180” or “reinvent the wheel.” They plan to make good and informed decisions while being progressive go-getters.

With three votes on the five-member Council, the challengers have the ability to make change happen, as they come to the table with similar goals for the city, Smith said.

Nelson, who failed a bid for a second term, said he was somewhat surprised by the outcome of the election. However, he felt confident that everything the previous Council has worked on will still get accomplished.

Cram did not return calls for comment.

Former Twin Falls County Sheriff’s captain sentenced for DUI

TWIN FALLS — A former Twin Falls County Sheriff‘s captain was sentenced Tuesday to a year of supervised probation and 48 hours of community service for drunken driving while off duty.

Brent Hilliard was sentenced in Twin Falls County Fifth District Court. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor Oct. 23 for driving under the influence. He was originally charged with an excessive DUI, but the charge was amended. An excessive DUI means a person has a blood alcohol level of 0.2 or more. Hilliard’s precise level was not listed in court documents.

On Tuesday, Judge Calvin Campbell ordered a 12-month withheld judgement. He told Hilliard he was going to treat him just like anyone else and order a withheld judgement because he doesn’t have a prior record.

“I know you’re probably more disappointed in yourself than anyone,” he said.

Hilliard had surgery in May because of a ruptured disc in his back, and after not receiving clearance from a doctor to return to work, he became depressed over potentially losing his career, attorney Anthony Valdez said in court. “That had a significant impact upon Brent.”

“It was a dark time,” Hilliard said in court. “I did fully believe I was going to lose my job with the sheriff’s office after 21 years. I made a poor decision.”

He went out drinking alone in the desert Sept. 7. He was driving south on U.S. 93 when stopped by a county deputy at about milepost 32 north of Hollister.

Hilliard was off duty and wasn’t driving a county vehicle. The sheriff’s office immediately turned over the case to the Idaho State Police to avoid a conflict of interest.

Hilliard was suspended from the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office. He is no longer employed by the sheriff’s office, staff said Tuesday.

Instead of serving 180 days in Twin Falls County Jail with 177 days suspended, Hilliard is required to complete the 48 hours of community service within 120 days.

Campbell said Hilliard couldn’t participate in the sheriff’s work detail due to physical limitations.

Hilliard was also ordered to pay $1,202.50 in fees. His driver’s license is suspended for 180 days, but a restricted permit is authorized after the first 30 days.

Hilliard has attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings on his own accord for two months, Valdez said in court, and those have been “very useful to him.”

Hilliard has served for 25 years as a law enforcement officer. He has been with the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office since 1996 and was promoted to captain in 2011.


Burley’s Britton Garrard (20) holds onto the ball as Minico’s Carson Manning reaches in during the District IV Championship game Thursday night, Feb. 25, 2016, at Minico High School in Rupert.

UPDATE: Coroner identifies man crushed to death by farm equipment in Twin Falls

TWIN FALLS — A 40-year-old man died Tuesday when a piece of farm equipment fell from a jack, pinning him to the ground.

Police were called to the 900 block of Washington Street South at 11:19 a.m., Twin Falls Police Lt. Terry Thueson said.

When police arrived, they found Jose Jamie Tapia of Twin Falls dead under a large hay baler, Thueson said.

Tapia was working under the baler near the rear axle when the jack slipped, Twin Falls County Coroner Gene Turley said. The coroner’s office is sending Tapia’s body to Boise for an autopsy.

Thueson said he didn’t know whether Tapia owned the equipment or was employed by the owner. The accident happened near the Family Dollar, on the west side of Washington, south of Orchard Drive West.

Tapia’s family has been notified, Turley said.