Judge OKs central Idaho trail, but work remains on hold
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A federal judge has rejected a request by wealthy landowners in central Idaho to stop construction of a public trail crossing their ranch to connect the popular tourist destinations of Redfish Lake and Stanley.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale ruled last week that the U.S. Forest Service and other entities followed proper environmental and other procedures in approving the trail on an easement the agency has crossing the private land.
However, a contractor who has been working on the trail said a dispute with federal officials over payment has stalled construction of the trail.
Sawtooth Mountain Ranch owners David Boren and Lynn Arnone have been attempting to prevent completion of the 4.4-mile trail for pedestrians, cyclists, horseback riders and snowmobilers.
Boren is the founder and a board member of Clearwater Analytics, a financial management company headquartered in Boise. Boren didn’t respond to a voice message left at Clearwater Analytics. Attorneys listed on court documents as representing Boren also didn’t respond to a voice message.
The case has a lengthy legal history. Dale previously rejected attempts to halt work on the trial while the case played out in court, and has now ruled on the case’s merits.
The Forest Service has a conservation easement deed dating to 2005 that allows a trail 30 feet wide to cross about 1.5 miles of private property.
Dave Coyner of Quality Asphalt Services had been working on the trail and said Tuesday that it’s 90% complete, needing only a top layer of gravel. He said that would take about two months, easily fitting into the five-month work window starting in June with summer.
But he said he has declined to work on the trail after the Federal Highway Administration refused to pay him for previous work on the trail. He also said other contractors have declined to work on the trail after hearing about his problems.
“They kicked us out the door right when we got down to where we’re ready to make hay,” he said. “It’s frustrating. As of right now, I don’t know when it will be completed.”
The Federal Highway Administration didn’t return a call from The Associated Press. A spokeswoman for the Sawtooth National Forest didn’t respond to an email.
The Forest Service for years has wanted to build the trail in the area that attracts thousands of tourists drawn to the rugged and scenic area that offers many outdoor recreation activities.
The trail is also part of a bill signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2015 creating three new wilderness areas in central Idaho.
Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho sought support for the wilderness areas for years among local residents, environmentalists and ranchers before finally finding the right mix.
The deal that emerged brought in more than $1.5 million for trail maintenance in the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and includes money to build the new trail between Redfish Lake and Stanley.