Local-government leaders don’t always play well together when interests clash. In the case of the Ada County Highway District and the Garden City Council, a dispute has escalated into a lawsuit and allegations of bad faith.
ACHD and Garden City have clashed for months over the location of a large open-ended canopy and the sand and salt it covers on an ACHD work site near the Boise River Greenbelt. Neighbors want them removed because the sand and salt lie within a flood plain and could put residents at risk, Mayor John Evans says.
When the council last year denied an extension of the highway district’s permit for the canopy, which ACHD calls a shed, ACHD sued to overturn the decision.
With the lawsuit still pending and no sign that the council would change its mind, the highway district this year went to the Legislature. ACHD proposed a bill to exempt itself and the salt shed from city control.
The bill failed, but a deadline to close the shed looms. So does the lawsuit. What happens next is in doubt.
This is what happened.
Shed covers piles of salt, sand near Boise River
The shed and piles are located on the northeast corner of Adams and Reed streets at 3770 N. Adams St., about 500 feet south of the Boise River in ACHD’s Adams Maintenance Complex. The agency’s headquarters is across Adams Street.
The complex houses over 170 pieces of equipment and is a base for 75 employees.
In 2017, the Garden City Planning and Zoning Commission approved a three-year permit to allow ACHD to cover sand and salt there with a 50-foot-tall structure.
ACHD is required by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to cover the salt and sand to protect the Boise River from runoff that could pollute the river. ACHD also wants to protect the salt from precipitation and erosion and elevate it to protect it from washing away in a flood.
The commission was skeptical but granted the permit.
In a joint meeting in 2018, Evans said by phone, the highway district indicated that it was looking for a new location for the shed, something permanent, knowing that the permit for the sand and salt structure would expire in 2021.
But last year, ACHD asked the Garden City Council for a one-year extension of the permit. This time, the council said no.
“The council always thought: ‘Are you going to comply or not?’” Evans said. “Then it came out that they didn’t have any intention to comply.“
Shed’s piles are 6 inches above 100-year floodplain
Garden City residents nearby never agreed to live next to the shed for more than three years, Evans said. The council has heard from residents in the neighborhood that they want it removed, he said.
Also, the piles are a mere 6 inches above the 100-year floodplain. Garden City now requires a 3-foot elevation.
The highway district sued the city. ACHD says it has a property right under the Idaho Constitution to maintain the shed because the sand and salt piles are a legal preexisting use.
ACHD then paused the lawsuit when it proposed a bill to the Legislature this year that would let it keep the shed and piles by exempting essential transportation facilities from state and local plans and ordinances.
The Senate Committee on Local Government and Taxation killed the bill, saying that it seemed to address a hyper-local matter. Committee members asked that the two sides work out the disagreement themselves.
The committee was also concerned with the the lawsuit. “We don’t resolve litigation by legislation, and this feels like the most specific example of that,” said Sen. Todd Lakey, R-Nampa.
ACHD’s attempt to change state law left the council seething.
In the testimony at the Legislature, Evans said, it became clear that ACHD had made no clear plans to move the shed in the three years the temporary permit was in effect.
On April 12, ACHD asked the Garden City Council for another extension, this time for just 60 days.
Garden City Council to ACHD: You lied to us
During that meeting, council members expressed anger at being misled by ACHD into accepting the agency’s word that it would comply with the permit and move the shed.
“The thing that pisses me off more than anything else is to get lied to,” Souza said. “It really makes me mad to get lied to by people who should know better and who should have more respect as a fellow elected official of what is at stake here and what has happened to this neighborhood.”
The council decided to continue the discussion and put off any decision until it had time to hear more from the ACHD Commission.
ACHD Commission President Kent Goldthorpe followed up with a 13-page letter on April 21. Goldthorpe said the shed is a legal non-conforming use of the property, necessary to protect the pile of sand and salt as required by the EPA.
The City Council met again May 24. The vote was unanimous: no extension.
The district has considered raising the shed’s floor, building a permanent structure with a lower profile, or relocating the piles somewhere else. ACHD contends that relocating the shed further west will decrease efficiency, increase travel times and costs for its sanding and salting trucks, and affect winter service downtown and in points east served by personnel and equipment based at the Garden City site.
ACHD also contends that the city can require removal only of the shed, not the salt and sand piles. They could remain with tarps.
Plus, moving the piles would cost the district more than keeping them.
On May 28, the highway district put out a news release saying that it has found a tentative new location for the structure.
ACHD: We may move shed to Meridian — in 4 to 7 years
ACHD said that it will go before Meridian’s Planning and Zoning Commission for an annexation and zoning request to allow for the operation of the complex on 30 acres at 3764 W. Ustick Road.
But it remains unclear what will happen next. Garden City still wants the structure gone as soon as possible. Wong said in the news release that the highway district expects to move the to the new site within four to seven years, “depending on economic and market conditions.”
Garden City’s conditional use permit expires this Friday, June 11.
Evans said that once the permit expires, the issue will default to a legal proceeding if the shed isn’t moved. It would then be up to a judge to decide it ACHD must move the shed or not.
ACHD declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
In his letter to the council, Goldthorpe said ACHD must provide road services to taxpayers, so the district will exercise all legal remedies to ensure that it can continue operations at the Adams Street site until the new location is ready.
Evans doesn’t trust the highway commission.
“I think asking for a permit for three years and then allowing time to elapse, and suddenly you want four to seven more years, at the rate Garden City is changing, and given the history of the salt shed, I don’t know if they will move it even then,” he said.
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