House editorial: Miscellany: A week of updates big and small

Craters of the Moon

Many Idahoans breathed a sigh of relief Thursday when U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke announced Craters of the Moon National Monument was no longer under review for changes after President Trump’s executive order on usage of the Antiquities Act.

Craters has long been a source of pride for Idahoans. Descriptions range from “bizarre” and “alien” to “unusual and weird,” the official wording in Calvin Coolidge’s original Antiquities Act order setting aside the original Craters of the Moon National Monument.

Craters of the Moon symbolizes the diversity in our state’s landscape repertoire that includes mountains, forested wilderness, high desert plains and major rivers. Aside from its unique profile on the globe, Craters is home to as many animal species as Yellowstone National Park and is a destination for geologists, star gazers and volcanologists from around the world, as evidenced by the thousands of comments asking Zinke to leave Craters alone.

Hopefully the relief from not losing any acreage of its “unusual and weird” beauty is enough to propel a joint Craters of the Moon National Park Memorial proposal through the Idaho Legislature in 2018, and on to the U.S. Congress to become Idaho’s first fully contained national park.

At the very least, we are grateful any reductions are off the table.

Simpson makes us believe in magic

On Friday, Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson announced the Energy and Water Development Appropriations bill for the 2018 Fiscal Year budget protects funding for the Idaho National Lab, the Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy and cleanup work at the INL site.

Simpson’s work on the bill was masterful. He managed to salvage most of the necessary funding for maintaining the modus operandi at INL in the face of ruthless requested budget cuts in the DOE with Trump’s first foray into negotiating government spending.

Simpson said the Energy and Water Subcommittee, of which he is chairman, was given a solid budget cut of $209 million, with a request for $1 billion in spending transferred to work on nuclear weapons and other strategic defense programs.

It made for some hard sacrifices, most notably in Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) spending, which handles renewable energy research programs.

Overall, the $969 million spending bill has $48 million trimmed from nuclear energy, a light belt-tightening when compared to the many programs zeroed out in Trump’s skinny budget.

Safe from seriously detrimental cuts are the INL’s facilities management budget, nuclear reactor research funding, including $83 million for the Advanced Test Reactor, the INL electrical grid test system and the DOE cybersecurity programs, many of which operate at the INL.

This is the kind of behind-the-scenes work that sometimes goes unnoticed back home, but take note: Simpson just performed the equivalent of a Houdini-style escape from certain death and eastern Idaho should be cheering.

Auditorium District direction and a successful partnership

The nearly all-new Auditorium District board is, understandably, reviewing its options in moving forward with the proposed events center. Should the district continue to inch toward the goal of building a multi-use events center that is getting more expensive by the day, or look around for ways to partner with entities to meet the needs of the community at large? Indeed, is the proposed events center, with its emphasis on an amateur league hockey team and events like concerts, circuses, monster truck rallies still what the community wants and needs?

Here’s the thing: local hockey league players also need access to a larger — or another — hockey facility (it’s a bone of contention on whether public use of the ice is part of the Auditorium District’s plan for the facility) and the city’s Parks &Recreation Department already utilizes Sandy Downs and other city-owned properties for events such as circuses, concerts and monster truck rallies. Is there more to this proposed events center than meets the public eye? At the very least, let’s update the goals, the projected balance sheet and the expected economic benefits of the proposed facility.

Wednesday’s board meeting suggests the new board members are ready to listen to what the public wants and renew efforts to pick up momentum in building the events center if that’s what the community desires.

While the remaining board member, Terri Gazdik and the former board member and now-Executive Director Cindy Ozaki have worked over the years to feather the Auditorium District’s nest, has the population’s need actually evolved away from what has become a smaller and more expensive facility?

This week also saw the completion of a project jointly funded by the city of Idaho Falls and the city of Ammon — the project expanding the Hitt Road and 17th Street intersections. Now there’s an example of a partnership that benefits both communities though the costs and the maintenance weren’t and won’t be split equally down the middle.

The Hitt Road project’s success belies the conflict that surely occurred behind the scenes. But, in the end, both communities will greatly benefit from a safer intersection expanded to better accommodate our flourishing population.

Should the Auditorium District tweak its direction, it will be because we all would benefit. Existing and new Auditorium District decision makers should move forward with open minds and, if it takes biting the bullet and opening the door to partnerships that could change the outcome or staying the course on the current pace, so be it.

Katie Stokes is the Commentary page editor. Email her at