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The Lemhi County Commissioners are suspending City/County negotiations on a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which would have allowed a joint interagency effort to pursue the feasibility of building an alternate bridge across the Salmon River.

The action was taken based on recommendations by Professional Engineer Stephen Freiberger of Paragon Consulting Incorporated who has been the lead consultant for the project since its inception.

The move by the Commissioners was prompted by a further list of provisions submitted by the Salmon City Council when it was thought an Interagency Agreement had already been reached. The council did approve the agreement on November 16 however the approval was contingent on the county accepting a list of further provisions submitted that evening by Council President Jim Baker.

Road and Bridge Supervisor Chris Fredrickson told the commissioners, at their November 28 meeting, that many of the city’s provisions dealt with unknown factors reaching far into the future such as the bridge’s exact location and questions pertaining to bridge access which cannot be determined before preliminary research is done. The MOU is the first step towards finding answers to the questions.

A letter sent from the commissioners to City of Salmon Mayor Leo Marshall states: “Our staff has informed our Commission that your Council approved the Interagency Agreement on the referenced project with additional changes at your November 16, 2016 Council meeting.

“We find this all to be very troubling since the wording of the agreement had been previously negotiated at our meeting on November 14th with one follow-up provision requested by the city attorney.

“After review of the proposed changes we find that the provisions required by the City Council significantly change the intent of the agreement and unduly limit the scope of the funding application for the project. Therefore; we have directed our staff to suspend further work on this agreement until the city of Salmon is prepared to honor the terms and approve the language contained in the agreement negotiated prior to the November 16 meeting.”

The letter said that Lemhi County is still convinced a second bridge across the river is a vital project for this area and that the proposed project provided a unique opportunity to obtain support from the Idaho Transportation Department and LHTAC, the state’s Local Highway Technical Assistance Council.

The letter from the commissioners concluded by saying, “As we have previously mentioned timing is critical for approval on this agreement as any further delays will cause postponement of the project for at least two years and jeopardize the ability of the City and County to provide adequate emergency services to our citizens in the future. Therefore; our Commission requests that the City reconsider its position and approve the Interagency Agreement as presented, no later than December 1, 2016”

The letter to the mayor was signed by Lemhi County Commission Chairman John Jakovac.

The need for a second bridge as an alternate emergency access in case of a Main Bridge failure has been identified for many years as a major transportation priority by both the county and the city in terms of public safety as well as protecting the stream of commerce which runs between North and South America on US Highway 93. The current proposal is the first time any agency has offered to assist with a bridge building project which is far beyond the means of local government.

The concept of creating a Memorandum of Understanding between the city and the county began at a meeting last March 21 when research by Freiberger showed state agencies would be interested in assisting in the bridge building effort. Another joint city/county meeting was held on April 11 and on April 20 Freiberger addressed the full council to explain all aspects of the plan as well as potential funding avenues. On October 19 he again spoke to the council and updated it as to the benefits of the bridge building assistance which has been offered.

On November 1 there was a joint meeting of city and county officials where Freiberger outlined responsibilities of the entities involved along with possible additional funding sources. He reiterated that before any outside agencies could commit to assist with such a project there would have to be a city/county MOU. It was made clear at all of the meetings that either the city or the county could cancel the agreement at any time.

At the November 28 meeting of the Lemhi County Commissioners Commissioner Rick Snyder said, “As far as our stance, it’s never changed. It’s this board’s opinion that for the money and the benefit we can get, this is an opportunity.”

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