Washington County Adopts Federal Lands Ordinances Despite Legal Concerns
Washington County Commissioners signed off 2-1 Monday morning on three ordinances that the state attorney general’s office said are likely unconstitutional.
The ordinances give the county say over fire and road management on many federal public lands. That means any road closures or prescribed burns on those lands would need approval from county commissioners, as well as those who hold permits for those lands.
Another ordinance allows ranchers, whose permits only allow them to graze their livestock on those lands, to log or mine there without additional federal permission.
“All these ordinances have substance. They’re all based in law,” said Commissioner Kirk Chandler, who does not hold a law license in Idaho.
An opinion from the Idaho Attorney General’s Office disagrees. It found that the ordinances were “highly likely” to be found illegal due to the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, which ranks federal law above state and local law when they’re in conflict.
State Rep. Lauren Necochea (D-Boise), who sits on the House Natural Resources and Conservation Committee, requested the opinion.
“Who asked her to talk to the attorney general’s office,” Chandler said Monday.
“I am weary of Idaho lawmakers acting outside their jurisdiction to make an ideological point because the legal costs of the fallout are always pushed onto taxpayers,” Necochea said of his comment in an email.
She said she also requested the opinion after Washington County Commissioners voted 2-1 on Aug. 31 to keep legal advice on the ordinances from county Prosecutor Delton Walker secret from the public.
Commissioner Nate Marvin, who was the only no vote Monday and who supported releasing Walker’s analysis, said he worried about how taxpayers would bankroll future legal costs.
“I don’t know where we would get the money to defend these ordinances. Like I said earlier, the justice fund is maxed out,” Marvin said.
“We’ll address that when it comes,” Chandler replied. “If the Forest Service sues us, we can look at the ordinance and say, ‘What don’t you like about the ordinance? We can change it.’ We don’t have to spend any money.”
The majority of residents who testified on the ordinances last week supported them, saying they were tired of the feds not listening to them when it comes to land use issues. But some, including ranchers with federal grazing permits, opposed the ordinances because they didn’t think it was fair for the rest of the county to fund a legal defense for them.
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