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Back on the ballot? Twin Falls County commissioners reconsider bond for event center at the fairgrounds

FILER — Twin Falls County may have an opportunity to bring an event center to the fairgrounds — but voters would have to give it the final OK.

The Twin Falls County Fair Foundation has a feasibility study and a site plan to build a 120,000 square-foot event center on the east side of the fairgrounds. The building would have the ability to host indoor rodeo events, trade and consumer shows and sporting events, with a stadium seating 5,000.

But Fair Manager John Pitz is gambling on several things to take place before that could happen.

First, he’d need to get approval from the County Commission to get a May ballot initiative for a bond issue. He’s also hoping a sizable private donation will come through in mid-February.

“If that comes through,” Pitz said, “the bond will be considerably less.”

Finally, two-thirds of Twin Falls County voters would have to vote “yes” to allow the county to get a bond issue for the event center. It’s a project that has been estimated to cost around $30 million — but with private funding, Pitz hopes the county could do it with about a $10 million bond.

Friday afternoon, Pitz will meet with the Twin Falls County Commission to go over his proposal and seek approval to get an attorney to work on the wording for a ballot initiative. The county has until March 16 to submit ballot initiatives for the May election, he said.

County Commissioner Terry Kramer said it would be nice to have an event venue other than the College of Southern Idaho’s Expo Center. The county fairgrounds already has supporting infrastructure in place.

“You own the land and it has the infrastructure, so you won’t have to build everything,” he said. The problem: “You can run it, but you never have enough money to build it. It’ll have to be paid by taxes.”

Event center concept design

The commission has seen only example concepts and designs, Kramer said, but commissioners hope to get a full presentation on Friday.

As proposed, the center would have a 150-by-300-foot cement event floor surrounded by 5,000 seats. A 2016 feasibility study prepared by AECOM Technical Services Inc. notes that a slightly smaller capacity, such as 4,000 seats, would still allow the center to be successful.

Additionally, the building would have a 150-by-250-foot dirt floor for smaller rodeo and roping events. More dirt could be hauled onto the concrete floor for larger events.

Event center floor plan

The report estimated the event center would begin with hosting 68 events a year, with an annual attendance of 95,250.

The concrete floor, Pitz said, would be more attractive than the CSI Expo Center for certain events — and would bring the potential for large trade shows — such as home and garden shows, RV shows and boat shows. The center would also up the fairgrounds’ ability for bringing in rodeo events.

“The biggest thing is you can run more year-round because you don’t have to worry about the weather,” he said.

The event center would also have an indoor kitchen and concessions stand, plus an event show room. An adjacent alfalfa field would provide 15 acres of parking for the east-facing center.

Twin Falls County Fairgrounds event center site plan

All the land for the event center and parking is used to grow hay and for parking, Pitz said.

The city has not formally analyzed bringing an event center to Twin Falls, city spokesman Joshua Palmer said. But an ad-hoc committee this year will oversee a feasibility study for a possible recreation center.

“It would be open space for athletes and sporting events as well as community events,” Palmer said.

The rec center could also have spaces for classes that would address public health in some way. The feasibility study will help determine what can and should be done, how much it would cost, and if it would be self-supportive.

AECOM’s study projected an economic boost to the area from having an event center. The center in its first year would bring $3.3 million in gross direct spending. Operating revenues were estimated at $588,000, with net income of $15,000.

While the event center wouldn’t be a big money-making operation for the fairgrounds, Pitz said, it would be self-supporting. It would also largely require only existing staff and equipment.

Twin Falls County voters rejected past ballot measures for an event center bond issue — first in 1997, and again in 2006. Pitz said the last measure failed by less than 30 votes.

The Twin Falls County Commission may require the fairgrounds to secure the private funding before commissioners agree to a ballot measure. If voters then past the bond issue, the fair board could solicit bids this year, Pitz said. Construction could take up to a year-and-a-half.

Editor's Note: This story was corrected Feb. 1 to clarify Twin Falls County voters would have to pass the ballot initiative.

FBI clashes with Trump, has 'grave concerns' on Russia memo

WASHINGTON — In a remarkably public clash of wills with the White House, the FBI declared Wednesday it has "grave concerns" about the accuracy of a classified memo on the Russia election investigation that President Donald Trump wants released.

The FBI's short and sharp statement, its first on the issue, laid bare a Trump administration conflict that had previously played out mostly behind closed doors in meetings between top Justice Department and White House officials.

"As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy," the FBI said.

Further complicating the memo's release, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee said late Wednesday that his committee's vote to release the memo was now invalid because it was "secretly altered" by Republicans who wrote it. California Rep. Adam Schiff said in a letter to House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes that committee Democrats had discovered changes that were made after the panel voted Monday to send it to Trump for review.

"The White House has therefore been reviewing a document since Monday night that the committee never approved for public release," Schiff said in the letter.

Schiff did not detail the changes, and a spokesman for Nunes did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Trump has five days from the vote to review the document, and if he doesn't object then Congress can release it.

Schiff called for Nunes to withdraw the memo from the White House and for the committee to hold a new vote next Monday.

The memo is part of an effort to reveal what Republicans say are surveillance abuses by the FBI and the Justice Department in the early stages of the investigation into potential ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.

The FBI's stance on the memo escalates the dispute and means Trump would be openly defying his hand-picked FBI director by continuing to push for its disclosure. It also suggests a clear willingness by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who in the early stretch of his tenure has been notably low-key, to challenge a president who just months ago fired his predecessor, James Comey.

The FBI statement came the day after Trump was overheard telling a congressman that he "100 percent" supported release of the four-page memo.

Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer on Wednesday night placed the blame on House Speaker Paul Ryan, saying that if Ryan "cares about the integrity of the House or the rule of law, he will put an end to this charade once and for all."

Democrats have called the memo a "cherry-picked" list of GOP talking points that attempts to distract from the committee's own investigation into Russian meddling in the election that sent Trump to the White House.

The drama comes as special counsel Robert Mueller also is investigating whether the Trump campaign improperly coordinated with Russia during the campaign and whether Trump sought to obstruct the inquiry by, among other actions, firing Comey.

Under the House committee's rules, the president has five days to object to the memo's release, which the panel voted to authorize Monday. But Trump himself already has urged the release, and it could come sooner. By late Wednesday, it had not yet been settled whether the White House or the committee would handle the actual release.

Earlier this week, Wray and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein made a direct appeal to White House chief of staff John Kelly not to release the memo, warning that it could set a dangerous precedent.

But the president has been undeterred.

Television cameras captured Trump, on the House floor after the State of the Union address, telling South Carolina Rep. Jeff Duncan that he backed the release. When Duncan implored him to "release the memo," Trump said: "Oh yeah, don't worry. 100 percent."

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told CNN Wednesday that a legal and national security review of the document was continuing. Trump had not read the memo as "as of last night prior to and immediately after the State of the Union," she said.

White House chief of staff Kelly said Wednesday on Fox News Radio that he expected the memo to be released "pretty quick."

Trump has been telling confidants in recent days that he believes the memo will validate his concerns that the FBI and Justice Department had conspired against him, according to one outside adviser familiar with those conversations.

The president also has told allies that he believes the memo bolsters his belief that accusations of collusion between his campaign and Russian officials are false and part of a conspiracy to discredit his election.

On Wednesday afternoon, Nunes fired back at the law enforcement agencies, calling the FBI and Justice Department objections "spurious."

"It's clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counter-intelligence investigation during an American political campaign," Nunes said. "Once the truth gets out, we can begin taking steps to ensure our intelligence agencies and courts are never misused like this again."

Washington man charged with vehicular manslaughter in interstate crash

RUPERT — A Washington state man is charged with vehicular manslaughter after a crash last April that killed his passenger, 17-year-old Alex Anthony Stone.

Stephen Fred Afuvai, 19, of Puyallup, Wash., was charged with misdemeanor vehicular manslaughter after the Idaho State Police, which investigated the April 13 crash on Interstate 84 near milepost 201, said he failed to stay in his lane of traffic after he fell asleep at the wheel.



Troopers estimated that he was traveling at a speed of more than 89 mph in a posted speed zone of 80 mph.

Officers said Afuvai was eastbound in a 2000 Volkswagen Jetta when he fell asleep and went off the left shoulder of the road. When he heard the sound of the rumble strip he reentered the road and over corrected entering the median and rolling the vehicle, which came to rest in the westbound lane of traffic.

Stone was thrown from the car and was lying in the westbound lane of traffic.

One passenger, who was a minor, was flown to Portneuf Medical Center in Pocatello. Afuvai and a third minor passenger were taken by ambulance to Minidoka Memorial Hospital in Rupert.

None of the occupants in the Jetta were wearing seat belts.

Afuvai was arraigned in Minidoka County Magistrate Court on the charge on Jan. 26 after a warrant was issued for his arrest. A pre-trial hearing is set at 11 a.m. on Feb. 14 in Minidoka County Magistrate Court.

If you do one thing

If you do one thing: Twin Falls Rotary Club’s Death by Chocolate fundraiser will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. at Canyon Crest Dining and Event Center, 330 Canyon Crest Drive, Twin Falls. Tickets are $20 at the door.

Associated Press  

President Donald Trump gestures at the end of his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Jan. 30, 2018. 

Fire marshal: Burley building fire deliberately set, someone went through 'some effort to make sure the building burned'

BURLEY — The state fire marshal said Jan. 31 that a person deliberately set a fire that destroyed a vacant building on the west side of the 1200 block of Overland on Jan. 29 and caused a total loss from water and smoke damage to the building south of it.

“I’ll just say that a person had gone to some effort to make sure the building burned,” said Verl Jarvie, deputy investigator for the state fire marshal.

A pipe bomb was also found across the street in the door knocker of a new, unopened restaurant.


A pipe bomb was discovered Monday in the door handle of downtown Burley business Kassiani Restaurant, Bakery and Events.

The Cassia County Sheriff’s Office said Wednesday no arrests have been made. The fire and pipe bomb are being investigated as one case. A pickup that was wanted in connection with the incidents was recovered by the sheriff’s office on Tuesday but police are staying mum on who it belonged to or where it was discovered.

The building that burned is owned by Brek Pilling and his partner Brian Tibbets. A voicemail left on Pilling’s cellphone remained unanswered Wednesday. Pilling and Tibbets also own the restaurant and the building next door to the building destroyed by fire.

Jarvie said some sort of fire accelerant was used and it was found throughout the building. Rags and papers were used to light the fire inside the building. The type of accelerant used is unknown and samples have been sent to a lab for testing, he said. Jarvie said he suspects the fire was started in the middle of the building because that part sustained the greatest damage.

The floor and roof has collapsed in the middle of the building, he said. The building is unsafe and should be taken down as soon as it is condemned.

Firefighters helped take some of the interior structure out of the building and now piles of debris lay heaped in the parking lane in front of it surrounded by police tape.

Laurie Welch Times-News / LAURIE WELCH, TIMES-NEWS  

Firefighters work Monday in the 1200 block of Overland Avenue at the scene of a fire.

“Is someone going to come clean that up, or am I supposed to do it?” Noel Santana asked as he looked around the edge of his building toward the rubble on Wednesday.

Santana owns a building under renovation that will include office space and two upstairs apartments a couple of doors south of the burned building.

Santana said his building was not harmed except for a small place on his roof that was damaged by the firemen’s high-pressure hose and a window that was broken out by firemen so they could determine if there was any smoke or flames in his building.

“I’m not sure what to think about it,” Santana said. “I know that there are too many rumors flying around about it, and I wish they would make an arrest.”

Santana said he is concerned that someone walking near the cordoned off area could be hit by a falling brick.

Across the street next to the restaurant at Corporate Image, owner Shari Hodge said she is concerned that no arrests have been made.

“If that pipe bomb had went off it would have really affected us,” Hodge said.

When she tried to come to work on Monday morning the sheriff deputies “were flat out rude to me,” she said.

“They told me don’t plan on working today. I was just trying to figure out what was going on, “Hodge said. “They didn’t tell me about the pipe bomb that was next to my building. If someone is really out for them there could be another one.”

Laurie Welch Times-News / LAURIE WELCH, TIMES-NEWS  

Firefighters work Monday at the scene of a fire in downtown Burley

But Undersheriff George Warrell said he doesn’t believe the public is in danger. Warrell said there is always a concern that another incident could occur, and there are no guarantees.

“But, from what I’m looking at right now there is nothing that leads me to believe that there would be more at this point,” he said.

Warrell would not say if the office has a suspect in mind.

“We are looking at all the avenues, and there are a lot of agencies involved,” he said.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is helping with the case along with the state fire marshal.

All the businesses in the area that were closed on Monday sustained some loss, Hodge said.

“I worry every day when I come in that I’ll find my business taped off or destroyed,” she said.

At the least, she said, the mess across the street is “an eyesore.”

Pretrial supervision fees in Twin Falls County are the highest in the state, sometimes $150 a month

BOISE — Twin Falls County has been known to charge people as much as $150 per month to supervise them before they go to trial, according to reports collected by Idaho Supreme Court administrators.

That’s twice the legal maximum that counties are allowed to charge people on misdemeanor probation who have already been convicted of a crime.

Of the 30 Idaho counties that currently have some type of supervised pretrial release program in place, Twin Falls has charged the highest known rates, according to Sara Thomas, administrative director of the Idaho Courts. The state has received reports of the county charging supervision rates as high as $150 a month.

Many counties with pretrial supervision programs don’t charge defendants anything at all.

“It is very surprising to think that someone who is released pretrial, who is not on probation and who is presumed innocent, is paying more than someone who has been convicted of a crime,” Thomas said.

It’s unknown exactly why or how Twin Falls County fees have hit such high levels. The fees aren’t determined by the courts, but rather by the county itself, according to Fifth Judicial District trial court administrator Shelli Tubbs. The county clerk’s office did not immediately return a call for comment.

A bill introduced in the Senate Judiciary and Rules Committee last week would cap the amount that counties are allowed to charge for pretrial supervision at $30 per month, a fraction of the amount that Twin Falls County has been known to charge.

The bill, SB 1238, would also officially authorize counties to require that defendants be supervised as a condition of their release while they await trial. Although it’s a fairly common practice, there’s technically nothing in Idaho statute authorizing counties to do so.

“I don’t know that the legislature has to actually authorize every fee or charge that a county chooses to impose,” Thomas said. “But I do think that...they have recognized that there need to be caps on those things.”