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BOCC steps back from campground

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | April 7, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioners are taking a step back on where a proposed RV campground will land.

After a contentious and acrimony-filled four-hour meeting, the board voted 2-1 to send the matter to the fair board to identify a location on existing fairgrounds property where the RV campground could be located. That plan would then be brought to the commissioners.

That process will likely require the county to reach out to the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation to see if an extension of a $473,315 grant received by the county in 2022 is possible.

In proposing the motion, Commissioner Asia Williams said she had reached out to IDPR officials to find out specifics on the grant, what it said and what the county could and couldn't do. In doing so, she said her reading of the grant showed a photo of the disputed parcel but contained a description of the fairgrounds land.

In speaking with state officials, she said she was told that if Bonner County does not keep the RV campground at that site for 20 years as agreed, they could be forced to pay back the grant. Williams said it is also her interpretation that the land is encumbered because of county plans for a potential justice center on the parcel.

"We would be entering into this grant knowing that we have an encumbrance if we put [the RV campground] on this piece of land because we all agree we probably are going to need that justice center … just not now," Williams said.

Looking at the grant, and the RV campground project, Williams said she believes the county only has one option — and that is to put the campground on what all agree is existing fairgrounds property.

"It is my motion that this board moved to allow the fair board to place the campground … on current existing fairground land and that the board makes the request for an extension for the grant. It would cause peace," Williams said. "Otherwise, the real answer is we are not going to get a campground. You cannot take this grant … it is encumbered land. You cannot go into it knowing that you're going to tear it down. We said 20-plus years, we can't bind our county that way. And it's foolish to be stuck on this for so stinking long when it's actually [grant] rules on what we would have to do."

The vote followed a lengthy discussion as the issue popped up repeatedly during the meeting, both in a public comment section added to the start of the board's meeting to items brought up by the commissioners.

Several of those speaking blasted the board, saying the constant bickering and delays were jeopardizing the grant, warning the county could end with nothing.

Many of them also called on the county to put the campground on existing fairgrounds property and leave the disputed parcel for a potential justice complex in the future. With the explosive growth experienced by the county in recent years, trying to find land where such a facility that combines a jail, courthouse and offices for the county's prosecution and defense attorney will beyond the county's budget.

In voting against the measure, Commissioner Luke Omodt said his conversations with community residents and others indicate to him that there is room to do both the RV campground and have space for a justice complex. Having the campground will help the fairgrounds be more self-sufficient, he said of his efforts on the project.

"I believe that this Board of County Commissioners has a duty fiduciary really to look out for the best interests of the county and the fairground, and I believe that we can do both," he said.

Bradshaw said the selection of the disputed parcel for the RV campground was agreed upon by both county commissioners and by Bonner County Fair Board members. The agreement led to the engineering and the design of the campground on the disputed parcel.

"That was what was designed, that was what we did it based on and that's what the grant was based on," he said. "If you change up from that, and say, you were to move it over to the other three or four spots, where it wouldn't fit, you wouldn't fit in one spot out there. It has to be in three or four spots. Now you get to run sewer, water, and electrical, before different locations, instead of one."

His comments drew an immediate rebuttal from Williams, who said that wasn't the case. The District 2 commissioner said no one that she has talked to supports the project in the location and said her investigation shows potential problems if the county moves forward with the campground at that location.

"Who cares if it's 5,000 different places, why go against the community, the fair board, the sheriff and expansion," she said. "That question is still not answered. It just hangs out there."

Others criticized the board for pulling back on a proposed public vote of the issue. While non-binding, they told the commission that would give them clarity on what the public wants to see on that property.

"If we're back at square one, why are we not getting the public to weigh in," resident Dan Rose said. "What are you hiding? By not having put that on the ballot question? Because that would have given you a real good idea of where the people stand and you avoided it."