The county commissioner heard from critics – and supporters – of its efforts to secure a grant to build an RV park in St. Maries.
The discussion Monday followed a vote last month by the commissioners to apply for a grant from Idaho Parks and Recreation to help fund the park. Plans call for the park to be constructed where First Street hits the St. Joe River in St. Maries.
Money would come from the Idaho Recreational Vehicle Program. Under the program the state collects fees from RV owners. Those fees are then then used to help fund construction of facilities, including campgrounds, RV parks and dump stations.
The state expects to fund about $4.8 million in projects this year. Since the program’s inception in 1985, the state has awarded more than $50 million.
Hari Heath, representing the Benewah County Republican Central Committee, objected to the county efforts for the grant.
“We are opposed to having the county as a public sector be in competition with the private sector,” Mr. Heath said.
He said the county does have a role to provide critical services but questioned whether it should be in the business of operating an RV park.
Commissioner Bob Short questioned who the county would be competing with.
“If there were someone in the private sector wanting to put one in that I would agree, but that is not happening,” Mr. Short said.
Commissioner Jack Buell said the ‘last thing’ the county wants to do is compete with businesses but agreed there is a need for RV parking in St. Maries.
Commissioner Phil Lampert said there is a misconception about the proposal.
“It really should be written up as a park with some RV hookups,” he said. “If we get the grant we will develop the area on the river to provide more public access along with some RV hookups.”
Mr. Heath acknowledged it is a worthy project, but again questioned whether it is the proper role for the county.
Jim Howard, who moved to the Fernwood from the Seattle area two years ago, also objected. He said he was ‘rocked back on his heels’ when he learned on the proposal.
“The one thing I didn’t expect here in Benewah County was to have the government compete with private enterprise,” Mr. Howard said.
He added that he would ‘write the check today’ to buy the property if the park made sense.
Mr. Lampert said the county proposal is a way to improve riverfront property, which has been on the market for some 10 years with no buyers, for the benefit of the public.
“We saw this as a way to improve the riverfront area in St. Maries without costing anyone in St. Maries a lot of dollars,” he said.
He added that the county already operates several parks, which receive heavy use. This proposal has the benefit of being funded through fees paid by the people who would use the RV spaces, he said. He estimated the park would include 10 to 20 RV hookups.
“This would give everyone public access to the river along with a few RV hookups,” he said.
“Even that doesn’t make it right,” Mr. Howard said.
Maureen Hodgson disagreed with critics. She said as a long-time resident she has a different perspective.
“The difference is people who have lived here a little longer and watched the run-away growth in Coeur d’Alene that has restricted public access to the river and lake,” she said. “Not every family has the assets to sell in Washington State and live on that.”
She said the RV park would be in the public interest and would preserve public space for everyone. She said Aqua Park, which is owned by the city, is heavily used by local families. Cherry Bend Boat Park and Scott Park, both county-owned, are popular with local residents as well.
“I have no doubt this would be well-used by local residents,” she said.
Michelle Primer questioned whether the county has the resources to operate an RV park and whether it would be a good use of county money. She said the grant application specifies that if the park did not cover expenses, then the county would be obligated to pay them.
“The board has the responsibility to fund the necessary function of the government,” she said, adding she did not think the park is necessary.
Timber Plus filed the application for the $376,000 on behalf of the county. Money would be used to buy the property with plans to apply for more funding next year for construction. Timber Plus pledged $5,000 to the project this year and local businesses promised $9,000.
The county will learn late spring if it receives the funding.