Top 20 stories of 2012 — #12
# 12 P&Z ordinance controversial
By Lisa Lete
BLACKFOOT - Tempers flared between county residents and county commissioners following a 'standing room only' work session on Nov. 14 The commissioners unanimously approved wording changes to the controversial planning and zoning ordinance. The ordinance will be in effect at the first hearing of the new year on Jan. 9, 2013.
Work on the countywide zone ordinance started in 2007 and affects the property rights of local residents. The ordinance presents guidelines for residential and agricultural subdivisions and provisions for how to appeal to those guidelines. It contains zoning guidelines for energy development such as windmills and other developments.
Commissioner Ladd Carter said, "This is not a perfect ordinance. It's a work in progress. We can't see into the future what will come our way."
When some of the attendees became vocal against the decision, commission chair Cleone Jolley sternly informed the group that "anyone who disagrees with the decision can appeal to district court."
Bingham County resident Jay Cornelison said adamantly, "The county residents are not happy. We are headed for a dictatorship and we're bringing it on ourselves."
Lona Murdock became visibly angry, stating, "The people have said 'we don't want this!' You've changed the wording when everyone told you 'no.'"
Murdock and others agreed that property needs to be protected and there should be guidelines, but not major restrictions.
"The ordinance is restrictive and does not protect our rights they (the county commissioners) are not listening to us," Murdock added.
Rumblings among the group alluded that money would be pooled by interested county residents to appeal the decision in court.
The entire ordinance is available at http://www.co.bingham.id.us/planning_zoning/planning_zoning.html
#13 Blackfoot man charged in fatal crash
By JEN ANDRUS and LESLIE MIELKE
BLACKFOOT — The Bingham County prosecutor charged a Blackfoot man with vehicular manslaughter following an accident on Aug. 3.
Approximately 9:40 p.m. that night, the Blackfoot Police responded to a two-vehicle accident in the area of East Harmony and Rich Lane. Brent J. Hansen, 36, of Blackfoot died as a result of the accident.
According to the police report, Hansen and his 6-year-old daughter were on a motorcycle which collided with a vehicle operated by 41-year-old Kenny C. Struhs.
Hansen‘s daughter was injured in the accident and was transported to Bingham Memorial Hospital.
According to LaDawn Walker, Hansen‘s sister, the 6-year-old suffered a broken arm in the crash. Hansen was transported to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center in Idaho Falls where he succumbed to his injuries. Hansen left behind five children ages 9 years to 4 months and his wife.
Following the investigation, Struhs was arrested for vehicular manslaughter and leaving the scene of a fatal accident.
Struhs appeared before Seventh District Judge James Martsch.
Bingham County Prosecuting Attorney Scott Andrew said Struhs has been charged with vehicular manslaughter that alleges he was under the influence. Struhs was also charged with leaving the scene of an accident that caused injury or death. His bond was set at $250,000.
Struhs is currently in the Bingham County Jail.
#14 Layoffs at INL
By LESLIE MIELKE
IDAHO FALLS — On Feb. 9 Officials with the Idaho National Laboratory announced the need to cut their workforce.
As many as 185 workers working with Battelle Energy Alliance (BEA) lost their jobs.
The main impact of these personnel cuts affected the administration and support of people working for BEA, said Mark Holubar, Director of Human Resources and Diversity. People working for the Idaho cleanup group with CWI and Idaho Treatment Group, were not be affected by these cuts.
The INL says they laid off employees on a voluntary basis at first then determined which additional cuts were made.
Employees were informed of the layoffs about 11 a.m. that day.
Voluntary termination occured in the middle of March and involuntary layoffs occured at the end of that month.
Those who lost their jobs got a severance package.
“This is a difficult day,” Holubar said. “We know this will impact families and the community.”
The cuts were part of a cost-reduction effort site-wide.
“In recent months, budget reductions and cost cutting efforts have been done in each department across the lab,” Holubar said. “We have scaled back and postponed investments. The investments we kept help to keep the lab competitive.
“We also received a strong endorsement from the Dept. of Energy and the Office of Nuclear Energy,” Holubar said. “Our congressmen have done a great job in respect to this institution.
“[INL] received a slight increase in our budget on the nuclear side,” Holubar said, “however, this only makes up 45 percent of our budget.
“The rest of our budget—55 percent—comes from contracts with the Dept. of Defense and renewable energy,” Holubar said. “These departments have dropped in their business structure.”
Increases in the cost of commodities and fuel also impacted the budget, said INL spokesman Ethan Huffman.
The INL employs about 8,000 employees, including contractors. Of those, 4,200 work for the BEA.
#15 Fort Hall adds Hotel and Event Center
By BOB HUDSON
FORT HALL - Some of the people touring the Shoshone-Bannock Hotel and Event Center during its grand opening in August had good things to say about it.
"It's beautiful," said LaLyn Murray, who is bookkeeper at her husband's store, Vern's Radio Shack of Blackfoot. "The rooms are outstanding.
"And the suites, who would not want to stay in that for an anniversary or something?
"This is a place you'd refer people to," Murray continued.
She and John and LaVerne Cegielnik of Chubbuck were among those who attended the grand opening celebration.
"It's really nice," said John. "The way it's set up with the pool and spas is pretty neat.
"The only thing we didn't like is they don't have a separate place for breakfast," he added.
Nathan Small, the chairman of the Fort Hall Business Council, noted that the hotel has been in the planning stages for several years. He recalled that tribal members had once discussed building such a facility near American Falls Reservoir.
"We're finally able to get this place built," he said. He said the Tribes were unable to get local financing, but received help from the Bank of Albuquerque in New Mexico.
"This is something that we're very proud of," Small said. "A lot of this was to create jobs for our people."
The hotel features 156 rooms, restaurants, a gift shop and other amenities.
Its event center , with rooms named in honor of chiefs from the tribes' past, will seat up to 1,400 people.
# 16 EISF has record breaking attendance
By LISA LETE
BLACKFOOT — The Eastern Idaho State Fair (EISF) "Barnyard Birthday Bash" of 2012 went down in the record books as the most highly attended fair in Blackfoot's history with a new attendance record of over 224,000 visitors. This beat the record of 221,000 visitors set in 2009.
A severe rainstorm dropped seven tenths of an inch of rain on the fairgrounds on opening day, forcing the closure of carnival rides and canceling the popular horse races; however, the weather was ideal the rest of the week.
EISF manager Brandon Bird said he believes that fair-goers recognized and took advantage of the value provided by a reduction in ticket prices for grandstand events such as the inaugural Gem State Classic Pro Rodeo and the combo price on the concerts for Three Dog Night and Heart. Bird said he is planning to incorporate a similar package next year.
'It's the dedication of thousands of people that make this fair great," Bird said. "Everyone from the exhibitors to concessionaires, sponsors to employees and especially those who attended this year's event have made the celebration of our 110th anniversary something we will never forget."
Next year's fair will be Aug. 30 through Sept. 7, 2013.
# 17 Hidden Treasures burns
By LESLIE MIELKE
SHELLEY — An early morning blaze blackened the business, Hidden Treasures, a furniture store at 238 S. Emerson, on Tuesday, Oct. 11. The business remains open in two other sites in town—one north of Shelley near AgParts. Hidden Treasures 2 is downtown near Farmers Insurance.
Fifteen to 16 different fire investigators were on site two days later in the fall, said Randy Adams, Shelley Assistant Fire Chief.
The investigators were trying to determine what started the fire, he said. There was an investigator for every little thing. There was an investigator for light bulbs, one for light fixtures, another for garage door openers and any number of other items.
"They bagged and boxed up material and sent it to the insurance laboratory in Denver, Colo.," said Adams. "Investigators told us it could take from a few weeks to six months to determine what caused the fire because the lab in Denver is backed up about six months."
Fighting the blaze in October, firemen from Shelley, Firth, Blackfoot and Ammon responded. Forty guys and eight trucks were on site, said Shelley Fire chief Mike Carter.
A person spotted the fire as he/she was passing by and called 911. The call came into the Shelley fire station about 5 a.m.
When the Shelley firemen arrived on site, the front section of the business was fully engulfed, said Adams.
"We called Firth right away," Carter said. "Because the blaze was tough on the eyes, we contacted Blackfoot who sent a couple guys and a truck and Ammon who sent eight guys and a truck.
"The fire was spreading through the trestles of the building to the south," said Carter. "It was spreading to the roof above the sheetrock.
"We knocked holes in there to get some water to the hot spots," he said. "It took a couple hours to get it under control."
The initial fire engulfed the front of the building and then spread through the trestles to the north and south of the building.
The fire did not reach the building to the north that contained mattresses, among other items.
"We were able to get it out without any injuries," the fire chief said.
By late Thursday morning, the Idaho State Fire Marshall was onsite.
"It was sure a disappointment," said Hidden Treasures owner Odell Young. "Something like this happens to someone else, not you, you know,
"I was so impressed with the fire department—their quick response and the number of people here," Young said. "Broulim's and OK Trailer came to see what they could do to help.
"We were very fortunate," Young said.
Grandson Bo Young said he thought his grandfather "was pulling his leg" when he called him about the fire.
"I arrived about 6 a.m. and just couldn't believe what I saw," Bo said.
"People are so kind," he said. "Broulim's came with water, donuts and chicken. OK Trailer said they would bring a trailer so we could have an office and people will know we are still open."
Hidden Treasures remains open in two other sites in Shelley—one site is north of Shelley near AgParts. Hidden Treasures 2 is downtown near Farmers Insurance. The business employees 10 people.
"We're still open," said Bo.
This is the 11th year Odell Young and his son, Jed Young, have owned and operated Hidden Treasures.
# 18 Pingree couple grand marshals
BLACKFOOT - The Eastern Idaho State Fair’s board of directors named Gary and Muriel Judge of Pingree as grand marshals of the 2012 Eastern Idaho State Fair. They led the annual Fair Parade down Shilling Avenue.
“Gary and Muriel are no strangers to the Eastern Idaho State Fair and I can’t think of two more deserving people to represent us this year as grand marshals,” said George Hamilton, president of the EISF Board. “Their lifelong contributions to Eastern Idaho’s agriculture community and to this Fair have been outstanding. I can’t remember a Fair without them.”
For decades, both Gary and Muriel have been actively involved in numerous aspects of the Fair. For 33 years, Gary was the swine superintendent, a position from which he retired in 2011. The Fair has been a part of Gary’s life since he was eight years old as a 4-H youth exhibitor.
In the 52 years since, he has missed the Eastern Idaho State Fair only three times, when he was away in college.
As swine superintendent, Gary was been involved with the 4-H Market Hog Sale, ensuring delivery of the hogs and overall floor responsibility.
Through the years, he and Muriel have continued to exhibit products from their 300-acre farm, including swine and malt barley.
He has helped the agriculture exhibit areas by laying the grain sheaves.
“It is a real honor for Muriel and me to represent the Fair as grand marshals. I look forward to seeing the parade this year since I won’t be responsible for the pigs as I’ve always been in years past,” said Gary. “Every year, I enjoy the Dutch Oven cooking barbeque dinner at the Fair, so I’m looking forward to that, as well.”
Outside of the Fair, Gary is former president of the Southeast Idaho Pork Producers Association. In 1986, he was recognized as Idaho’s up-and-coming pork producer and represented the state of Idaho at the National Pork Producers Council.
For 43 years, Gary served as a 4-H leader in his community, including president and secretary of the 4-H Bingham County Council; Muriel also has served in 4-H leadership for 29 years. He also is president of the Bingham County Farm Bureau.
Originally from Coeur d’Alene, Muriel first experienced the Fair in 1974, soon after she and Gary were married. Muriel began exhibiting swine alongside Gary, and she later exhibited in the quilting and baking categories.
As a substitute teacher with an interest in educating children, Muriel has brought “fun” to the swine department. For youth, she created an educational packet with pork-related games and activities designed to teach kids about the pork industry. Alongside Gary, Muriel has been responsible for the swine department’s bookkeeping; each year, fairgoers and exhibitors enjoy her signature “Pig Sugar Cookies,” which she bakes from a favorite recipe.
“It’s such an honor for us to represent Eastern Idaho in being the grand marshals,” said Muriel.
#19 Charter high school coming
By Leslie Mielke
BLACKFOOT - The corner of Riverside Plaza has been home to the Plaza Twin Theater, Bradbury College, the Blackfoot Bookstore and before that, sports cards were traded there.
Coming Fall 2013, plans are for a new charter school, Bingham Academy , to fill the corner space at Riverside Plaza.
Fred Ball, project director for the charter high school and administrator of the Blackfoot Charter Community Learning Center, said the board has received authorization from the Idaho Public Charter School Commission.
The proposed Bingham Academy would be a four-year high school with an emphasis on college and career readiness.
Greg Sigerson, chair of the Bingham Academy Founding Board, acknowledged the $199,680 check presented to Bingham Academy on Nov. 30. This three-year start grant was awarded through the Charter School Program of the U.S. Department of Education. For three years, Bingham Academy will receive this amount of money on the condition that the charter high school is approved.
Bingham Academy is the only school in Idaho to ever receive a direct federal start-up grant. It hopes to open its doors next fall.
“This is a strong indication of the solid organization and quality we will offer in our curriculum,” said Sigerson.
“We are in the final stage of presenting our petition to the idaho Public Charter School Commission for approval,” he said. “This approval is necessary in order to secure the grant.”
Money from the start-up grant can only be used for software, computers and curriculum needs, said board member Pat Kolbet.
The start-up grant will also support the administrator’s salary for his/her first year.
Kolbet wrote the application for this grant.
“I scan the federal register every few days for every grant I can find,” she said.
Nearly 700 schools across the U.S. applied for this grant, Kolbet said.
All eligibility requirements were met by 68 schools but only 18 schools in seven states received these grants. Six schools were in Oregon; Bingham Academy was the only school in Idaho to receive this grant.
An additional $200,000 grant is available from the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation once the charter is authorized.
Plans are to lease space in the Riverside Plaza and to renovate the 17,000 square foot space into classrooms, locker space and a small gymnasium.
Zac Fillmore of MBA Construction in Blackfoot will be in charge of renovation.
Speaking of the need for a charter high school, Sigerson said, “I’m really doing this for my son, who is a second grader. “He is in a charter school now and I love the interaction the teachers have with my son, my wife and me.”
Brian and Angelina Thelin were two people who worked to bring in a charter school to Blackfoot.
“We started this project because I know enough people who needed it,” said Angelina Thelin.
“Parents deserve a choice,” said Brian Thelin. “One size does not fit all.”
#20 Truck crash awakens citizens
By BOB HUDSON
and LESLIE MIELKE
BLACKFOOT — Don Dewey and his wife Charlene live near exit 93 off Interstate 15.
About 2 a.m. on Oct. 3 they were awakened by two explosions.
“We thought the Sinclair had blown up,” Don said. “We thought one of their tanks had blown.”
The Deweys live about one block from the Snake River Sinclair station on U.S. Highway 26.
Don got up and made his way to Anytime Fitness where he and others watched the fire caused when two semi-trucks collided. He said several people working out at the gym had to have witnessed the explosion.
Eyewitness Alisa Coles works the midnight to 8 a.m. shift at Motel 6. She called 911 after she heard the crash and saw the explosion.
“I happened to be standing by a window when I heard a crash,” Coles said. “About 30 seconds later, there was an explosion.
“It was pretty big,” she said. “I backed away from the window in fear it might break.”
There were three fires, Coles said. The semi-truck cab was on fire. There was a fire on the embankment and the third fire looked like debris from the two semis.
“The driver who was hit, George, was brought to the motel,” she said. “ISP paid for a room for him for the night.
“The other driver was taken to the hospital with minor injuries,” Coles said.
“George said if the driver had come by five or 10 seconds later he would have been dead because he was walking alongside his truck,” she said. “He said he saw the semi hit his truck and then side- swiped the length of the trailer.
“The driver had 30 seconds to jump out,” she said. “When he was jumping out of the truck is when his truck exploded.
“It was a scary sight to see,” said Coles.
The ISP report indicated that George Riedel, 57, of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, had stopped on the shoulder of the interstate to check a flat tire. While he was calling for help, another semi, driven by Peter Spicer of Pocatello, rear-ended Riedel’s truck.
Spicer’s truck then tipped over onto the side of the road and both semis caught fire.
Spicer was taken to Bingham Memorial Hospital.
According to the Idaho State Police report, troopers and other emergency personnel responded to the fire which blocked the northbound lanes of the interstate. Those loans were closed and with traffic flowed through Blackfoot much of the day.
Blackfoot Fire Department and EMS personnel assisted ISP. at the scene and Idaho Transportation Department officials were involved in the crash investigation.