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After decades of division, Mini-Cassia strives for collaboration

Though divided by a river, Minidoka County and Cassia County are eternally associated.

The county names, when mushed together, even form an easily identifiable name for the region: Mini-Cassia.

But the counties have struggled at times to unite for the common good. Winding through Mini-Cassia, the Snake River creates a division that often runs deeper than an ordinary county line.

Most of the region’s population settled along the river’s banks over the years. But fierce protection of assets and resources, firmly entrenched high school sports rivalries, geographically large counties and an attitude of rugged individualism led to years of squabbling between the two counties.


A plane flies over the Heyburn-Burley Bridge March 27 in Burley.

“There has always been a division between people in Minidoka County and Cassia County because each has issues that are important to them,” said Burley Councilman Jon Anderson.

But today, visionary leaders are paving the way for a collaborative effort that bridges the murky, green waters of the Snake River. Officials in county and city governments and school districts lead the way, sharing resources and successes.

“We are growing closer together, whether we want to or not,” Anderson said.

Decades of squabbles

For decades, there was no shortage of issues to induce bickering between the two counties. Among them were: the incorporation of North Burley in Minidoka County, J.R. Simplot Company’s gifting a Heyburn plant to the city of Burley, and land use issues when officials tried to find a site for a new airport.

“Those attitudes of division have existed big time in my opinion,” said Heyburn Mayor Cleo Gallegos.

Gallegos recalls joint ideas like a regional hospital and a county fair that withered under the scrutiny of people determined to keep the status quo.

The city of Heyburn was embroiled in a years-long legal battle with the J.R. Simplot Company over electrical rates and in the end — with a resounding thud — J.R. Simplot closed the doors of the Heyburn plant and gave the property to the city of Burley.

Burley used the property to develop an industrial complex, and the city tried to soften the blow by naming it the Burley-Heyburn Industrial Park. Minidoka County and Heyburn still benefit financially from the park on the tax rolls and the sale of electricity.

Still, “Simplot’s gift to Burley was a hard slap,” Gallegos said.

A stinging blow went the other way during Burley’s attempts to find a site for a new airport. The city of Heyburn annexed 320 acres of property owned by Blincoe Farms into its impact zone, essentially freezing out Burley’s chances of acquiring the property.

Anderson said when the owners of the Ponderosa Inn, which sat near Interstate 84, exit 208 and has since been demolished, wanted to build, the city of Burley expanded its borders incorporating North Burley and providing the needed infrastructure.

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

Diana Moore, mammography specialist for Hologic, shows Cassia Regional Hospital staff how much detail the 3D image slices contain.

Even earlier, when Burley incorporated an area north of the river in Minidoka County, now known as North Burley, the action reverberated for decades. The issue of whether the city could cross the Snake River — which represents the county line — to incorporate went before the Idaho Supreme Court in the early 1960s.

“We didn’t take it from Heyburn. I think it was that we took it before Heyburn,” Anderson said. “It’s a hybrid area over there.”

The expansion, which is still discussed today by residents and government officials, provided Burley with a prime business location.

“Our forefathers in Heyburn didn’t have the vision or the money at the time to develop it,” Gallegos said of North Burley, which abuts Heyburn and would have been a logical extension to it. “It takes a lot of courage to see that kind of vision and what a city needs to be 10 or 20 years down the road.”

But today’s leader suggest a different future for Mini-Cassia, one in which hard feelings from leaders of a bygone era are softening. New relationships are forging, and leaders have begun working together peacefully.

“Our relationship with Burley now is at an all-time high,” Gallegos said.

When attitudes divide

Several factors contributed to Mini-Cassia’s years of division, including differing attitudes and a dose of stubbornness.

Clashing political personalities, fear of losing control of resources or power, religion, sports rivalries and the desire to maintain individual communities all played a role.

Some of the divisiveness also comes from county loyalty, Anderson said.

“Sometimes that makes it hard for projects to come together,” he said. “Should you put that hospital closer to my house or yours?”

Also, when services are combined between the two cities, that means fewer jobs and less control for the governing bodies.

“It often comes down to who’s going to be in control,” Gallegos said.

Religion can also be divisive, said attorney Don Chisholm, a Rupert resident who has a law practice in Burley.

People are so tied together in their religious organizations that they don’t always care to know people outside of them, and they tend to be suspicious of people they don’t know, Chisholm said.

According to the Association of Religion Data Archives’s 2010 U.S. Religion Census, which is the latest report available, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the dominant religion in both counties, but makes up a bigger share of the population in Cassia County. Catholicism comes in second in both of the counties.

According to 2010 City Data information, 52 percent of Cassia County residents who identify with a religion are Mormons; in Minidoka County, 38.4 percent are LDS. Nine percent of religious people in Cassia County identify as Catholic, while 20 percent in Minidoka County do.

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

Micaela Andersen, right, of Heyburn, and Brittney Murphy, of Burley travel on the Burley-Heyburn bridge walkway with their children Mitchell Andersen, 6, Carson Murphy, 6, Grace Murphy, 3, Mykenna Andersen, 4 and 4-week-old Evelynn Murphy on March 28. The walkway connects walking paths between the two cities.

Chisholm has been a proponent for decades of more consolidation of government services in the area.

“A lot of times, people just want to keep the resources in their county,” he said. “That’s part of it.”

Like Anderson, Cassia County School District Superintendent Gaylen Smyer thinks much of the separation comes down to people wanting to maintain a community identity.

“Look at the issue of combining the county fairs,” Smyer said. “The issue always comes back to where it would be located, and the same thing occurred when there was discussion about a regional hospital.”

Collaboration that works

Cassia County and Minidoka County governments, along with the two school districts, serve as models in the community for collaboration and consolidation of services.

The counties jointly operate the Mini-Cassia Criminal Justice Center, Mini-Cassia Public Defender’s Office, adult and juvenile probation departments and the Mini-Cassia Juvenile Detention Center.

Those services operate under joint power agreements between the two counties, and are governed by boards with members reporting to both sets of commissioners.

“I would say the joint ventures definitely save the taxpayers money,” said Cassia County Commissioner Bob Kunau.

Cassia County also works with the city of Burley to provide police services for the city through the Cassia County Sheriff’s Office. The consolidation of services for the two counties reduces overhead costs and duplication of staff, Kunau said.

Though the city and county have struggled at times to come together during contract negotiations, they have always ironed out the differences in the end.

The Cassia County Sheriff’s Office also works with the Minidoka County Sheriff’s Office, the Rupert Police Department and Heyburn Police Department through a drug task force and on other law enforcement issues.

The collaboration extends beyond justice systems; Minidoka County and the cities in the county operate a joint animal control venture too.

“I think there’s a huge benefit to that kind of collaboration,” Chisholm said.

A task force takes flight

After two decades of fighting over land-use issues for a new airport site, a task force was formed in 2016 to bring together Mini-Cassia leaders, citizens and airport users. The goal? Formulate a plan for how the project could be shared between the two counties and to select two top prospective sites.

The Federal Aviation Administration will no longer fund the airport in Burley because it does not meet safety standards, so the city will eventually close it down. Before that happens, Mini-Cassia hopes to find a new site that the two counties can share.

The city contracted with an engineer to study the issues surrounding the airport and formulate an airport master plan, which was sent to the FAA in December for approval.

The master plan remains under review, said Mark Mitton, Burley administrator.

If the plan passes muster with the FAA, it will be reviewed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Still, a new airport is likely years away.

In the meantime, Mitton said local legislators are helping officials answer questions on how a shared airport could be governed, an issue that will likely show up on a future ballot.

Teaching each other

For decades, the Cassia and Minidoka school districts operated independently. This year, for the first time, they launched an industry tech class in a single location open to students in both counties.

“It is a one-of-a-kind class. There is no other like it in the country,” said Jay Wing, a High Desert Milk employee who doubles as an instructor for the School to Registered Apprenticeship Program.

STRAP allows students to attend classes and work paid summer jobs with companies. Upon completion of the program, students earn a federal certification.

The two districts developed the program in collaboration with the Idaho Department of Labor, the College of Southern Idaho and industry sponsors like High Desert Milk, Fabri-Kal and McCain Foods.

Companies developed the class curriculum based on industry needs, and the class is treated like a job, with pay in the range of $10 to $12 per hour. Students must interview for class placement and sign a performance contract that includes real-world responsibilities, like showing up on time.

If successful, the pilot program will be expanded to include high schools in outlying communities.

The Minidoka County School District also approved its second charter school this year, geared toward industrial classes that provide certifications to students. The school was driven by industries’ need for qualified workers in the area. The school will benefit students not just in Minidoka County, but all across the Magic Valley.

“I see regional collaboration increasing,” said Debbie Critchfield, spokeswoman for the Cassia County School District. Critchfield also serves on the state board of education. “I think we will see a lot more communication between districts and sharing of resources.”

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

Cassia County School District Superintendent Gaylen Smyer, left, Burley Junior High School Principal Steve Copmann and Cassia County Sheriff Jay Heward brainstorm ideas for suicide prevention  Jan. 12 during a collaboration between the Minidoka County School District and Cassia County district.

In January, the two school districts began brainstorming ways to curb suicide in the community, an effort that spurred the Mini-Cassia chapter of the Suicide Prevention Action Network of Idaho that will soon begin.

“If something worked, it used to be our little secret. But now we share, and that door is wide open,” said Sandra Miller, Cassia County School District assistant superintendent.

Stepping into the future

The list of Mini-Cassia projects that could benefit from partnerships is extensive, said Heyburn administrator Tony Morley, including utilities, waste water and animal control.

As all of Mini-Cassia experiences similar growing pains, Morley said, the region is often “duplicating expenses.”

Going in together and sharing costs for projects makes sense, especially for smaller cities like Paul and Heyburn that lack financial resources.

“Why should every city in the area pay those overhead costs when they could go in together and share?” Gallegos said.

Take, for example, the two cities’ plan to connect their walking paths via the Overland and Burley-Heyburn bridges to create a 10-mile loop of paths.

The city of Heyburn is on the cusp of expanding its walking path from the Burley-Heyburn bridge to O Street and then to 21st Street, which will eventually tie Heyburn’s paths to Burley’s via a walkway over the Overland Bridge.

Heyburn and Burley’s paths are already connected on the east end by a walkway on the Burley-Heyburn bridge.

Burley plans to complete its greenbelt path from the Overland Bridge to the Burley-Heyburn bridge—closing the loop of paths on both sides of the river.

“We are interconnected in so many ways, and we could work together more instead of pulling apart,” Morley said. “Heyburn’s attitude is that we are open and willing to work on everything.”

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

Micaela Andersen, of Heyburn, and Brittney Murphy, of Burley, walk with their children, Mitchell Andersen, 6, Carson Murphy, 6, Grace Murphy, 3, Mykenna Andersen, 4, and 4-week-old Evelynn Murphy on March 28, 2018 on the Burley greenbelt path at Scholer Park.

In government, improvement is often made when younger people take office across Mini-Cassia, which shines a light on different perspectives, Anderson said.

“And in some cases electing people who came here from other places has helped,” he said.

A big shift in the Burley City Council’s willingness to collaborate on projects across the area has already taken place, he said. The council now recognizes that if Rupert excels, Burley excels too.

“I think people are starting to recognize that we are all in the same market area,” Anderson said. “We all benefit when we work together and things grow.”

When people look at this area as a place where they may want to live, they don’t just look at Burley or Rupert. They look at the entire market area of 40,000 people, he said. That mindset could be just what ties the two communities together.

“To continue to move forward,” Gallegos said, “The people in the two counties need to stop thinking about what’s in it for me, and instead think more about what’s best for the whole community.”

Only 10 diplomats left at US Embassy in Cuba

MIAMI — As Cuba faces a generational shift in power with Cuban leader Raul Castro expected to retire from the presidency April 19, the United States has few official eyes and ears on the island.

An embassy roster, which was updated March 22 on the State Department’s website, lists no political or economic officers and a total of only 10 diplomats, including Charge d’affaires Philip S. Goldberg, the chief of mission in the absence of an ambassador. There are no public affairs or cultural officers listed either.

Most of the jobs that remain after the United States reduced personnel levels in response to mysterious incidents affecting the health of its diplomats deal with maintenance, security or the internal functioning of the embassy that sits along Havana’s seaside Malecon.

On March 2, the State Department announced that for the indefinite future it would staff the Havana embassy at the minimum level “necessary to perform core diplomatic and consular functions.”

In the wake of what the United States has deemed “health attacks” on its diplomats, the embassy had been operating under temporary ordered departure status since Sept. 29. About two-thirds of the embassy staff was withdrawn after two dozen diplomatic personnel complained of mysterious symptoms ranging from hearing loss and ringing in the ears to mild concussions, headaches and memory and sleep disorders. The United States also expelled 17 Cuban diplomats from Washington and issued a travel alert for U.S. visitors to the island as part of its response.

When the temporary status expired in March, a new permanent staffing plan was put it place that kept personnel levels at a minimum and didn’t allow family members to accompany diplomats to the Havana post.

Now just a single consular officer, Consul General Brendan Mullarkey, is listed on the embassy roster.

Previously, the embassy had a large consular staff that processed visas requests for family visits, immigrant visas and other requests from Cuban nationals. Now appointments for immigrant visa interviews for Cubans are being handled at the U.S. Embassy in Georgetown, Guyana, and Cuban applicants for routine non-immigrant visas may apply at any U.S. embassy or consulate outside Cuba.

The embassy staff is now far smaller than when the U.S. diplomatic post operated as an Interests Section before the United States and Cuba restored diplomatic relations on July 20, 2015 as part of the Obama administration’s rapprochement with Cuba.

Those officers who remain at the embassy carry titles such as facilities manager, human resources officer, general services officer — a job whose duties include managing physical resources and logistics, information systems officer, post occupational safety and health officer, and regional security officer.

The State Department says it still does not have “definitive answers” on what caused the adverse symptoms experienced by the diplomats and it is still investigating. Although the United States hasn’t directly blamed Cuba, the State Department has said it holds the Cuban government responsible for not protecting the diplomats while they were on Cuban soil. Cuba has said repeatedly that it is not responsible for the incidents.


Russia's President Vladimir Putin, left, and Russian metals magnate Oleg Deripaska, right, walking to attend the APEC Business Advisory Council dialogue on Nov. 10, 2017, in Danang, Vietnam.

David J. Phillip 

Patrick Reed reacts to his eagle on the 13th hole during the third round at the Masters golf tournament Saturday, April 7, 2018, in Augusta, Ga.

A Twin Falls man is donating a kidney to his best friend

TWIN FALLS — Chris Mahler was the first to undergo blood tests to see if he could donate a kidney to his best friend of 18 years.

“It came back I was a match,” the Twin Falls resident said, and there was no question in his mind he wanted to move forward.

Jereme Winn of Twin Falls has stage five kidney failure. He said he’s not getting too excited about getting a new kidney until he’s on the operating table. But he’s grateful for his friend agreeing to be a donor.

“It’s awesome,” he said. “It’s surreal.”

A few years ago, Winn, a mechanic at Amalgamated Sugar Co., found out he had kidney issues. Since then, he has regulated the condition with medication, and he’s undergoing dialysis three days a week for four hours each time.

But now, he needs a kidney transplant. A surgery date hasn’t been set, but they’re aiming for June at the University of Utah Hospital.

In the meantime, the friends have been holding fundraisers to help Winn with his medical expenses. A week ago, they brought in about $1,300 through a benefit dart tournament.

Their history and their friendship run deep. Winn and Mahler met in 2000 while serving in the Idaho Army National Guard. Mahler had been serving for six years when Winn enlisted.

“Pretty much the first time we met, we just clicked,” Winn said.

They were both deployed to Iraq, where they served from 2004-05. They remain friends today and are also roommates.

After Mahler, who works at Western Music and Vending Co., found out he was the correct blood type match to donate a kidney to Winn, he met with organ donor and recipient coordinators at the University of Utah and did blood and urine tests.

He received a phone call from a social worker “to make sure you’re in the right frame of mind,” Mahler said, and to ensure he has support after the surgery and that he’s not being coerced in any way to donate a kidney.

The next step: Mahler will travel to Utah on April 25 for a clinical appointment, including a CT scan to determine which of his kidneys would be the best match to donate to Winn.

Living organ donors are often family members or friends, according to the National Kidney Foundation, but anonymous donations are also becoming more common.

There’s a huge need for organ donors. As of August, there were 116,000 people on the national transplant waiting list, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services. And each day, 20 people die waiting for a transplant.

Kidney donors must be 18 or older, in good health and have normal kidney function. People generally can’t donate if they have certain medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, hepatitis or uncontrolled high blood pressure.

If the donors are evaluated thoroughly, according to the National Kidney Foundation, they can go on to live a normal, healthy life after the surgery.

That’s what Winn and Mahler hope for — that both of them will be healthy and can enjoy life.

Mattis authorizes up to 4,000 National Guard troops for border

WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary James N. Mattis has signed an order to send up to 4,000 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border but barred them from interacting with migrants detained by the Border Patrol in most circumstances.

The order, issued in response to President Donald Trump’s call for using troops to stem illegal immigration, specifies that National Guard troops will assist the Department of Homeland Security along the border but not perform law enforcement missions and will be armed only when necessary for self-defense.

Given the restrictions, it’s unclear if the Guard units will play a significant role in Trump administration efforts to lock down the border. The Border Patrol has more than 19,000 sworn agents, although not all are assigned in the Southwest, and illegal immigration is at its lowest level in decades.

Trump portrayed it as a victory, however. “We are sealing up our Southern Border,” he said Saturday on Twitter. “The people of our great country want Safety and Security. The Dems have been a disaster on this very important issue!”

Previous presidents have mobilized National Guard troops to help monitor parts of the border. President George W. Bush sent 6,400 troops starting in 2006 and President Barack Obama sent 1,200 in 2010. As with the current deployment, actual policing was left to the Border Patrol, a law enforcement agency.

Brandon Judd, president of the National Border Patrol Council, the union representing agents, said Guard units could help by freeing agents to do more patrolling to search for smugglers.

“We have so many agents working in permanent surveillance duties, in control rooms, watching cameras,” he said in an interview. “This will free our resources to put more agents in the will increase the certainty of apprehension, which will allow us to target the criminal cartels.”

But some critics protested the buildup. In a letter, eight Roman Catholic bishops along the border said they were “deeply concerned” by the use of the military, saying it “distorts the reality of life on the border.”

“This is not a war zone but instead is comprised of many peaceful and law abiding communities that are also generous in their response to human suffering,” they wrote. The harsh rhetoric from the Trump administration, they added, “promotes the dehumanization of immigrants, as if all were threats and criminals.”

The deployment was announced late Friday in a joint statement by Mattis and Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. “Working closely with the border governors, the Department of Homeland Security identified security vulnerabilities that could be addressed by the National Guard,” they said.

The troops will be under state control, but the cost of deploying them will be paid out of the Defense Department budget through the fiscal year than ends in September, according to the order, which was released by the Pentagon. The order did not say where the troops will be deployed along the 1,954-mile border, or which Guard units would be used.

In California, the federal request for troops is still being reviewed but no new California National Guard troops have been sent to the border, according to Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat. Some Guard troops already are deployed on the border for counter-drug operations.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a Republican, ordered 250 National Guard soldiers deployed to the border within 72 hours, and said additional troops would be called up to join them as soon as next week. Two helicopters lifted off Friday night from Austin, the state capital, to head south.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, another Republican, said his state would deploy about 150 Guard members next week to provide support operations such as air surveillance, reconnaissance and construction of border infrastructure.

But governors of several states that don’t sit on the border resisted, signaling potential obstacles in meeting the president’s goal of a surge of 4,000 troops.

Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, a Republican, opposed the plan. After consulting with the general in charge of the state’s National Guard, Sandoval decided there was no “appropriate mission definition” to justify sending troops, according to his spokeswoman, Mary-Sarah Kinner.

Further north, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, said on Twitter that she would decline any request to send troops, saying she was “deeply troubled” by Trump’s plan to militarize the border.

Administration officials have scrambled to work out the details of the operation since Trump abruptly announced Tuesday that he planned to send the military to help fight illegal immigration and drug trafficking.

Trump has been frustrated that the Republican-led Congress has refused to fully fund his plan to build a border wall. Mexico also has rejected his demands that it pay for the wall.

The Pentagon has not provided an estimate for the cost of the military operation, and it is unclear whether all 4,000 of the Guard members authorized will be mobilized.

Under federal law, troops are barred from performing law enforcement duties in most circumstances, and the order appears to restrict them to a support role unless Mattis authorizes a wider mission.

“National Guard personnel will not perform law enforcement activities or interact with migrants or other persons detained by (Department of Homeland Security) personnel without your approval,” the order drafted for Mattis and signed by him reads.

The order adds that troops will carry weapons only in “circumstances that might require self-defense.”

It’s unclear what operations or missions troops will perform along the border that might require them to carry weapons.