At their regular meeting Tuesday, Oct. 12, the Benewah County Board of Commissioners moved to fund, improve and regulate several projects in the county.

Two of those projects involved grant money from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a federal law designed to promote infrastructure throughout the country. The commissioners moved to request grant money to make improvements and upgrades to the St. Maries Municipal Airport. Because the grant works by reimbursement, the county does not yet need to decide which specific developments the grant will fund, but if their application is successful, the money will be available for a wide variety of projects.

Earlier meetings involving the airport had planned on making improvements in 2025, but the commissioners agreed to move forward sooner if possible, because the cost of materials and other factors made planning that far in advance unpredictable. The board also agreed to revise and update the lease agreements used for hangar rentals at the airport.

The commissioners also agreed to use ARPA funds to improve broadband and internet access in county buildings, which would facilitate easier videoconferencing and similar events if the need should arise. Commissioner Mark Reynolds has spoken with Chickadee Wireless about the project, and the board agreed to plan on contracting the company for the upgrades.

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Seven people representing the county’s Drainage District 3 came to the meeting and asked the commissioners address a conflict regarding development on a dike northwest of town, near the St. Maries Gun Club. They reported that a landowner wanted to drive on the dike for better access to his property, but they worried about the damage this action would cause to the dike, increasing the area’s flood risk. The area in question was on someone else’s property, which made the situation even more complex, involving several restrictions and easements.

The county commissioners said they had little authority over that conflict, but that under Idaho state law, the drainage district commissioners did have that authority. The county recommended the district get their own legal advice and also recommended contacting the Army Corps of Engineers, because the corps would have a vested interest in protecting the waterway’s integrity.

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Jim Roletto with HMH Engineering updated the board on several road construction projects in the county and said all were in good shape, proceeding on schedule. This included the Slaughter House Bridge project, which involved closing the bridge for a short time over the weekend.

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After agreeing to new contracts with public defenders at a meeting last month, the board needed to revisit those decisions this week. The county had reached agreements with Clayton Andersen of Coeur d’Alene to be the county’s primary public defender and with Amanda Findlay to be the defender if Andersen was not available, but the county needed a third attorney for situations in which Andersen and Findlay both had a conflict. One such case is already in progress. The board agreed to hire Aaron Fruedenthal, who has a practice in Lewiston, for those conflicts.

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The commissioners decided to advertise for a full-time mechanic to work on county vehicles. Currently, the county contracts outside mechanics for vehicle issues, but because health, availability and cost were all issues in coordinating those repairs, the board decided to see if hiring their own mechanic would be more reliable and cost-effective. They said pay would depend on experience, and that the new hire would be required to have their commercial driver’s license.

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The board decided to draft a letter to the Panhandle Health District informing it of some sanitation issues near Santa Creek. Commissioner Bob Short said that there was an area there with issues of seepage in the creek from broken sewer lines and also from people in the area relieving themselves outside, near the waterway.

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County assessor Donna Spier updated the board on the auto license office’s upcoming move to the Federal Building. She also said she was frustrated with the board’s lack of communication regarding a new hire for the office. Based on a commissioners’ meeting in July, Spier had planned on bringing someone new into the auto registration department, but later learned that the commissioners had removed that hire from the budget for fiscal year 2022.The board said they would revisit that decision after the department moved and settled in to its new space, depending on the volume of work required. The Idaho Department of Transportation has cleared the new office to have five workstations, and only three people currently work in the department.

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Treasurer Sara Sexton told the board that she has fielded several requests for purchasing parcels that the county owns or controls, based on various tax issues. She said that her plan moving forward was to offer parcels for sale in groups based on location, so that her office could stay organized and focused on one area at the time. This plan would take effect likely in March of 2022, and Sexton said she would keep the commissioners informed. Right now, the only parcels available are at Crystal Creek.

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The county commissioners’ next meeting will be October 25. For more information, call the county clerk’s office at (208) 245-3212.

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