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A crowd of very upset residents gathered Monday, January 12, to express opinions about the Idaho Fish and Game Departmentís proposed plan to develop a new fishing access along the Lemhi River at 17 Mile Road.

The situation came about when a private property owner offered to sell 2.1 acres of undeveloped land to the Fish and Game (F&G). Residents of the area stated upset about the plan on several levels; private property infringement, trespass issues, invasion of privacy in a residential area, potential trash problems, personal safety due to unknown intruders and the fact the department did not inform residents of the plan.

The meeting was hosted as a courtesy by the Lemhi County Commissioners in order to give residents a chance to voice their objections and the department an opportunity to explain its reasoning. The county itself has no involvement in the willing seller/willing buyer situation.

Local Fisheries Manager for the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, Greg Schoby, said that providing legal public access for anglers wanting to fish the Lemhi River has been a department priority for the last 40 years since there are presently only five accesses along the 60 mile length of the river. He said when the department was approached with the opportunity to buy a small parcel which provides a river access, it felt the proposal was ideal.

Schoby said fishing provides around $23 million annually to the economy of Lemhi County. Approximately $1 million of that amount comes from Lemhi River anglers.

The question of how fishable that section of river is was the first issue raised by property owners along with whether or not that stretch has ever actually been walked. It was stated the river flows at eight to nine miles per hour at that particular location and is unsafe for anglers. Schoby said whether or not it is safe is up to the angler to determine, not the department.

State Wildlife Coordinator Gregg Serveen from the Boise office confirmed the planned parking lot will provide put in/take out access upstream and down. He said the department has identified anglersí desire to fish the Lemhi and it is part of the F&G mission to provide that opportunity.

Commissioner Chairman Rick Snyder asked if plans call for toilets, drinking water or camping and was told at present it is being looked at as an undeveloped fishing access site. Initially, the graveled parking lot would feature buck rail fencing and accommodate five vehicles.

The lack of restrooms brought numerous comments from neighboring residents. One speaker said the parking lot would be about ten feet from her driveway. She asked if any cost analysis has been done as to price of property versus number of fishing licenses sold, plus upkeep. She was told there hasnít. Serveen said the fishing opportunity and the public comments are being weighed carefully to see if conflicts can be reduced and if it is appropriate to move forward with the land purchase.

Joe Bishop had just found out about the proposed access that day and was especially upset over the lack of communication with property owners, trespass potential on his property and who will have to do the cleaning up after. His property is about 400 yards upstream from the possible access site.

Curet said the Fish and Game does not condone trespassing, a stance that is clearly spelled out in F&G rules. He said the area will be a low key access point not a developed recreation site.

Amy Brassy read a written summation of neighborhood concerns. She said business people have been asked their opinions about the proposed site but the adjacent property owners have not. She said the people the access site will most dramatically affect in terms of safety and privacy are being ignored. She quoted Serveen as saying the F&G will only contact adjacent property owners after the land is purchased and at that point will negotiate with landowner concerns. Brassy referred to the departmentís continuous statement that it represents the public but said it is not representing her by ignoring her concerns of property devaluation and threats to her safety and privacy and basically opening her yard to the public. She said the only way the public can safely access the river in that area is by trespassing on private property and reiterated safety concerns for children being near the fast flowing water. She said traffic along 17 Mile has increased ten-fold with the gravel pit, ammunition factory and recently vandalized hot springs. She said a better use of time and money would be to clean up the trashed bathrooms at sites already owned by F&G.

In response to complaints over a lack of transparency Serveen said it is the departmentís land acquisition policy to be as transparent as possible and to also defer to the landownerís privacy. He said, ďThere are things we can do in terms of transparency and there are also things that we need to keep in privacy related to appraisals, values and negotiations with individual land owners.Ē As far as the question of homeowner privacy rights Serveen said the department does not want to put the seller, who also has property rights, in a position of having to negotiate with everyone. He said all information gathered will be put before the commission.

The meeting was not a formal Public Hearing. After the meeting, local Region 7 Supervisor Curet said he empathizes with homeowners and the department is taking concerns and considerations into account while also balancing angler desires. He invited residents in attendance to continue the discussion at the Fish and Game office.

In a later interview he said a few people stopped by and comments continued to be received throughout the day. He said the dialogue about the proposed access site has been going on for about a month and the majority of input received at the local office has been positive.

As to the chance for further public comment Curet said whenever the proposal goes before the Fish and Game Commission official public testimony will be heard. He doesnít know exactly when that will be but does know it will be a while yet. Before it is presented to the commission a property appraisal has to be completed and final details negotiated with the seller. In the meantime Curet said the local office is welcoming and accepting all public input and so is the F&G Commission.

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