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Devan Reid tags a fish before passing it on to David Overy to record various measurements and other data on it at the juvenile fish trap on the Snake River under the Interstate Bridge on April 21.


Govt-and-politics
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Idaho on pace for record $800 million budget surplus

BOISE — Idaho could finish the fiscal year at the end of June with a record budget surplus of $800 million, Gov. Brad Little announced Wednesday.

The Republican governor said he will advocate for additional tax cuts along with investments in key areas, with education topping the priority list. Lawmakers will take up the budget when they meet in January.

Little attributed the strong state economy to fiscal conservatism, swift action during the coronavirus pandemic and responsible allocation of billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 rescue money.

He also said, “our relentless focus on cutting red tape are the reasons Idaho’s economy is catapulting ahead of other states right now.”

Little noted that May revenue numbers came in $580 million ahead of forecasts and, at nearly $850 million, best in state history.

The Division of Financial Management said revenue numbers for May, also released on Wednesday, were far above predictions because the deadline for paying income tax was delayed from April to May due to the pandemic.

Overall this year, individual income taxes have brought in $2.3 billion, about 25% more than predicted.

Sales tax collections are up nearly 8% to $1.8 billion.

The Tax Relief Fund, which receives sales taxes on online purchases, collected $12.8 million in May. Officials said that’s the third-highest monthly remittance to that fund, even eclipsing December 2020 numbers that include Christmas shopping.

Idaho’s unemployment rate is just over 3%, slightly above pre-pandemic levels.

Budget setting for fiscal year 2021 occurred before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and state officials feared a big deficit. State agencies were asked to absorb a 5% cut.

But the state received billions of dollars in coronavirus rescue money, and many Idaho residents and businesses also received pandemic help money. Federal money has also been used to boost unemployment benefits. In addition, Idaho has been one of the fastest growing states, with new residents bringing in additional money.

During the last legislative session that ended earlier this year, lawmakers approved and Little signed legislation for a nearly $400 million tax cut as well as millions of dollars on infrastructure spending. The predicted $800 million surplus has already accounted for those tax cuts and additional spending.

“Last year, we were battening down the hatches and preparing for a revenue decline,” said Little’s budget chief, Alex Adams. “A year later, we’re on pace for a record surplus. It’s really an Idaho success story of how Idaho has rebounded out of COVID better than nearly any other state in the nation.”


News
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Cassia schools begins full summer school program to fill gaps left by COVID-19 pandemic

BURLEY — After years of offering only a limited migrant summer school and an after-school program, Cassia County School District began offering a full summer school program to all students this week to catch up those who fell behind during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The district’s move back to a full-blown program was prompted by the need to fill the educational gaps in students after the pandemic, said Raft River Elementary School Principal Melina Ficek, who is coordinating the program for district.

“It was mostly due to COVID. Students came back to school further behind than before. We knew we had to fill some holes,” she said.

During previous years the district offered limited summer school to migrant programs or secondary level students who needed credit recovery, Cassia County School District Spokesperson Debbie Critchfield wrote in an email to the Times-News.

“The Cassia School District hasn’t offered open and full summer school programs for any student in more than 20 years and perhaps longer. Those around now can’t recall it outside very specific schools or student participation,” she said.

About one in six students out of White Pine Elementary School’s 600 students showed up for the first day of summer school on Monday.

Across the district 840 students signed up out of an average 5,500 student population.

Parents were “thrilled,” when the decision was made to hold a summer program, White Pine Elementary School Principal Diana Gill said. Snd the students seem glad to be there.

The summer program was offered district wide and all the elementary schools in the district signed up for it, Ficek said.

The programs at the secondary level schools all look different, she said, because each school fashioned a program based on what it needs.

“There was really a need for it at the younger grade levels,” Gill said, “Especially in reading, and that, of course, affects everything.”

Critchfield said the board and central administration started talking about the district’s summer programs in January.

“The impetus was to offset learning loss that was anticipated at the end of last school year. We are no different than other districts who want to supplement learning in any form. Clearly every student experienced a disruption in learning, but it is most felt by the earliest learners,” Critchfield said.

The district did not have the budget to offer extended school programs taught by certified teachers in years past.

“Although it’s recognized that summer learning gives students needed academic contact throughout the summer, there were no funds to support it. Teachers would typically spend the first few weeks of a new school year refreshing the learning standards of the previous year before moving on,” she said.

The “summer slide” as it’s referred to, Critchfield said, is a real thing and the disruption to schools last spring compounded the problem.

The summer slide is where students forget some of what they learned the previous year during the summer.

Critchfield said board members were concerned that the combination of those two factors would impact students longer than a year.

The cost of the summer program for the Cassia School District will run about $600,000 — with $490,000 coming from Gov. Brad Little’s learning loss money and $100,000 from federal stimulus funds.

The district’s buses will run routes to pick up and drop off the students.

“With the federal stimulus funds, Cassia was in a financial position to offer learning opportunities district wide,” Critchfield said.

What other districts are doing

The Twin Falls School District’s summer school program doubled its enrollment this year, district spokesperson Eva Craner said.

“The district made a concerted effort to involve more students to address student needs and learning loss brought on by the pandemic,” Craner wrote in an email to the Times-News.

The district hired more teachers for summer school to help keep class sizes smaller than normal and allow for more individualized instruction to help with learning loss, she said.

There were no other changes to the program this year.

Minidoka County School District did not alter its summer programs this year, Michele Widmier, federal programs and school improvement director said.

The districts holds three programs, a migrant summer school, secondary credit recovery and summer catch up for the alternative junior high school.

“We are not seeing increased enrollment in the summer programs this year,” Widmier said. “In fact, at the elementary level, enrollment is a bit down from past years.”

Back in class

Two hours into the first day of summer school, first graders at White Pine were already busy solving math problems.

Sixth grade teacher Melanie Clark had asked her summer school fifth and sixth graders what they wanted to work on during the next few weeks — and many of the answers were math related.

“I had looped up with my classes and I knew where the holes were,’ Clark said.

Students were also being pulled out of classes to undergo testing, which will be performed again at the end to measure growth, Gill said.

The students will focus heavily on reading, writing and math Monday through Thursday and have a “fun day” at the school on Friday, where students rotate among the available teachers who will provide a fun activity based on their own hobbies or expertise, Gill said.

The K-6 students will also participate in a theater class where they will perform in plays.

At Raft River Elementary, Ficek said, students will have more opportunities for STEM learning and experiments.

“Summer school in Cassia is an optional opportunity for parents to extend the school setting, but in a more loose unconventional way through summer programs designed to provide learning, but in ways not possible throughout the year,” Critchfield said.

Students are also fed breakfast and lunch and leave at 12:30 p.m.

First grade teacher Paige Coats has taught summer school one other year and she thinks the smaller class will help her students catch up.

Teachers knew students would be coming back to the classrooms after the shutdown with deficits, she said.

“It made the teachers better. We knew we had to find ways to teach more effectively,” Coats said.

Gallery: White Pine Elementary's 'Aladdin'
White Pine Elementary Art

Local
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HIDDEN HISTORY
Hidden History: Who were the Strickers?

For years, Stricker Ranch operated much like other ranches in the valley. Early emigrant families — including the Strickers — rounded up and branded cattle, cultivated and harvested crops, and raised families in the late 19th century, prior to the advent of the Magic Valley’s irrigation systems.

So what made Stricker Ranch so special?

It all started with the Trotter brothers, Charles and William, who in the 1860s were hired by “Stagecoach King” Ben Holladay to scout the Kelton Freight Road for sites to build stage stops. The two suggested a home station near the Twin Sisters at the City of Rocks and another at Rock Creek, a popular resting stop along the Oregon Trail south of modern-day Hansen.

The Trotter brothers were married to two Walgamott sisters from Iowa. Charles Trotter brought his wife, Irene, to Idaho to help him run the Rock Creek Station, while Bill Trotter and his wife — whose name has been lost to the ages — established the City of Rocks Station.

The Trotter sisters left two younger siblings in Iowa: Charles and Lucy Walgamott. Charles, at 17, followed his older sisters to Idaho in 1875. Lucy arrived in Idaho in 1880.

COURTESY PHOTO 

Lucy Stricker followed three siblings, Charlie Walgamott, Irene Trotter and another sister known only as 'Mrs. Trotter,' from her childhood home in Iowa. Lucy married Herman Stricker in 1882.

In 1865, James Bascom built a store at the Rock Creek Station. In 1876, Bascom sold the store to German immigrant Herman Stricker, who met Lucy Walgamott in 1880 while she visited her sisters in Idaho.

Two years later, Lucy and Herman were married by a justice of the peace in Oakley.

COURTESY PHOTO 

Herman Stricker came to the U.S. from Germany, then enlisted in the Civil War. Eventually he made his way to the Snake River Canyon, where he operated stores in the mining towns of Springtown — just west of the present-day Hansen Bridge — and Drytown — just west of the Murtaugh Bridge. He purchased James Bascom's store at the Rock Creek Stage Station in 1876.

Charles Walgamott worked at both stage stations before he claimed Shoshone Falls as his own. Walgamott and his wife Lettie ran a tent hotel at the falls and operated a ferry to transport miners from the north side of the Snake River to the south side when they needed to travel to the Stricker Store about a dozen miles to the south.

One evening in October 1884, a young I.B. Perrine, with 20 dairy cows in tow, came knocking at Charlie Walgamott’s tent door. Perrine, a young man who had moved to Hailey from Indiana, asked Walgamott to recommend a pasture with water where he could winter his cows.

Mychel Matthews / CLARENCE E. BISBEE PHOTO 

Sheep graze in a fruit orchard on I.B. Perrine's Blue Lakes Ranch in the Snake River Canyon in this early Clarence E. Bisbee photo.

The following morning, Walgamott escorted Perrine and his cows to two crystal-blue lakes in a box canyon in the Snake River Canyon, downstream from Shoshone Falls, where Perrine built an agricultural empire. Two decades later, Perrine concocted a crazy idea to divert water from the Snake River in order to turn the desert into prime real estate.

Mychel Matthews / LEWIS PUBLISHING CO. PHOTO  

Ira Burton Perrine, the father of the Magic Valley, is seen in this Lewis Publishing Co. photo.

Perrine’s idea was a success; he is now known as the father of the Magic Valley.

Herman and Lucy remained the proprietors of the Stricker Store until it closed in 1897. Their descendants donated the historic Rock Creek Station and Stricker Homesite — including its log buildings and 1900 Victorian home — to the Idaho State Historical Society in the early 1980s.

COURTESY PHOTO 

Bill Trotter, left, married Irene Walgamott and ran the Rock Creek Stage Station. Irene's sister Lucy Walgamott, center, married Herman Stricker, who purchased the Rock Creek Store from James Bascom. The Strickers homesteaded along Rock Creek. Charles Walgamott, right, was the brother of Irene and Lucy, and homesteaded at Shoshone Falls with his wife, Lettie. 


National
AP
Sponsor ends Keystone XL pipeline

BILLINGS, Mont. — The sponsor of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline pulled the plug on the contentious project Wednesday after Canadian officials failed to persuade President Joe Biden to reverse his cancellation of its permit on the day he took office.

Calgary-based TC Energy said it would work with government agencies “to ensure a safe termination of and exit” from the partially built line, which was to transport crude from the oil sand fields of western Canada to Steele City, Nebraska.

Construction on the 1,200-mile pipeline began last year when former President Donald Trump revived the long-delayed project after it had stalled under the Obama administration. It would have moved up to 35 million gallons of crude daily, connecting in Nebraska to other pipelines that feed oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Biden canceled the pipeline’s border crossing permit in January over longstanding concerns that burning oil sands crude could make climate change worse and harder to reverse.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had objected to the move, raising tensions between the U.S. and Canada. Officials in Alberta, where the line originated, expressed frustration in recent weeks that Trudeau wasn’t pushing Biden harder to reinstate the pipeline’s permit.

Alberta invested more than $1 billion in the project last year, kick-starting construction that had stalled amid determined opposition to the line from environmentalists and Native American tribes along its route.

Alberta officials said Wednesday they reached an agreement with TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, to exit that partnership. The company and province plan to try to recoup the government’s investment, although neither offered any immediate details on how that would happen.

“We remain disappointed and frustrated with the circumstances surrounding the Keystone XL project, including the cancellation of the presidential permit for the pipeline’s border crossing,” Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said in a statement.

The province had hoped the pipeline would spur increased development in the oil sands and bring tens of billions of dollars in royalties over decades.

Climate change activists viewed the expansion of oil sands development as an environmental disaster that could speed up global warming as the fuel is burned. That turned Keystone into a flashpoint in the climate debate, and it became the focus of rallies and protests in Washington, D.C., and other cities.

Environmentalists who had fought the project since it was first announced in 2008 said its cancellation marks a “landmark moment” in the effort to curb the use of fossil fuels.

“Good riddance to Keystone XL,” said Jared Margolis with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of many environmental groups that sued to stop it.

On Montana’s Fort Belknap Reservation, tribal president Andy Werk Jr. described the end of Keystone as a relief to Native Americans who stood against it out of concerns that a line break could foul the Missouri River or other waterways.

Attorneys general from 21 states had sued to overturn Biden’s cancellation of the pipeline, which would have created thousands of construction jobs. Republicans in Congress have made the cancellation a frequent talking point in their criticism of the administration, and even some moderate Senate Democrats including Montana’s Jon Tester and West Virginia’s Joe Manchin had urged Biden to reconsider.

Tester said in a statement Wednesday that he was disappointed in the project’s demise, but made no mention of Biden.

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate energy committee, was more direct: “President Biden killed the Keystone XL Pipeline and with it, thousands of good-paying American jobs.”

A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on TC Energy’s announcement. In his Jan. 20 cancellation order, Biden said allowing the line to proceed “would not be consistent with my administration’s economic and climate imperatives.”

TC Energy said in canceling the pipeline that the company is focused on meeting “evolving energy demands” as the world transitions to different power sources. It said it has $7 billion in other projects under development.

Keystone XL’s price tag had ballooned as the project languished, increasing from $5.4 billion to $9 billion. Meanwhile, oil prices fell significantly — from more than $100 a barrel in 2008 to under $70 in recent months — slowing development of Canada’s oil sands and threatening to eat into any profits from moving the fuel to refineries.


Local
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Idaho's current COVID cases are almost all unvaccinated, official says

BOISE — Idaho’s few COVID-19 cases currently being reported are almost all in unvaccinated people. And in the first six months of 2021, the rate of seniors being hospitalized has drastically declined, sparing some of those most vulnerable to the coronavirus and relieving pandemic-related hospital strains.

“More than 90% of all cases have no record of being vaccinated that we know of,” one of Idaho’s top public health researchers, Dr. Kathryn Turner, told reporters during a Tuesday news conference.

Meanwhile, the number of infected people who become hospitalized has declined 83% between January and May, when coronavirus infection rates were much higher, said Elke Shaw-Tulloch, Idaho’s public health administrator. The age group with the biggest dip was people age 65 and up, who were made eligible before the general population and who have the highest vaccination rate of all age groups.

Idaho has reported less than 200 cases during most days this month. On January 8, the state reported 1,085 new cases.

Real-world displays of the vaccine’s effectiveness are promising, especially for people at high risk for severe COVID-19 complications and for hospital administrators, who are seeing pandemic-related resource strains ease as they head into their usual busy trauma season. But Idaho has not crossed the finish line — with children still landing in the hospital and vaccination rates that trail the nation.

How can you get vaccinated?

The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare recently published a map of mobile vaccine clinics, which you can find at bit.ly/MobileClinicMapID.

Go to a pharmacy accepting walk-in appointments near you, which you can find online at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s ”Vaccinate Idaho” webpage. Visit vaccines.gov to find more sites near you, including at doctor’s offices. Sign up for a waitlist using the state’s vaccine pre-registration tool.

How’s Idaho’s vaccine campaign going?

Idaho seniors have gotten vaccinated at the highest levels of all age groups, but stragglers are getting vaccinated at a snail’s pace even after the state missed its self-set goal and continues to lag behind national rates.

Just 75.6% of Idahoans age 65 and up have received at least one vaccine dose, which grew less than half of a percentage point since Idaho missed its goal of getting 80% of seniors vaccinated by June.

Dr. Christine Hahn, the state’s top public health researcher, said it’s worth celebrating the high vaccination rate in seniors.

“Of course we want to bring everybody along, but the seniors were always the top priority, which is why vaccination started first in that age group. And so we’re really happy,” Hahn said, adding that she believes that “we can get to 80 (percent) vaccination” among seniors.

Just 49.1% of all Idaho adults have been vaccinated, compared to 63.7% of all American adults.

Vaccinating 70% of all Idaho adults is probably the best-case scenario, state-paid pollsters recently concluded. It may take until late fall to reach that goal, Shaw-Tulloch said.

“But it just depends on people’s personal actions,” Shaw-Tulloch said.

COVID-19 hospitalization rates for teens, aged 13 to 17, have declined only 42% since January — almost half the general virus-related hospitalization decline during the same time period, Shaw-Tulloch said.

“Even though we’re seeing declines in cases, we are still seeing cases from children and children in the hospital due to COVID. The disease rates in children are reflective of what we’re seeing with community transmission,” she said.

“And we know that vaccines work. And so we want to encourage children to get the vaccine so they can make sure that they get their summer back and that they have a good outcome for the (next) school year.”

How are leaders working to boost vaccination rates?

The state is using $9 million in grant funds to support novel ways to get shots out, including through clinics that are mobile, accept walk-ins and are at workplaces. Vaccinations at job sites seem to be working particularly well, Shaw-Tulloch said, along with smaller vaccination clinics. At least some local public health districts offer to help host clinics on job sites.

Nothing is off the table when it comes to incentivizing Idahoans to get vaccinated, she said. Idaho public health officials say they are looking to see what other states are doing to motivate those who are either uneager to get vaccinated or unconvinced that they should. Several states have offered cash incentives to vaccinated people through lotteries.

State public health officials are also trying to ensure that local doctors and health care providers have the best information about vaccines to address concerns and hopefully sway those who are hesitant, said Sarah Leeds, who runs Idaho’s immunization program.


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