North West Property Owners Association (NWPOA) attorney, Norm Semanko, opened their annual dinner in Coeur d’Alene on March 11th with an impressive report on his progress in winning legal battles on the behalf of the association.
THE REPORT FROM A HIRED PROFESSIONAL
NWPOA Attorney Norm Semanko
Attorney Semanko reported there were 364 claims to the lake, tributaries, ground water and all kinds of things that were filed by the federal government on behalf of the Coeur d’Alene tribe and on behalf of the Forest Service and other entities. And over 300 different people and local governments filed objections to those 364 claims. He stated that when you add them all up, that’s almost a 100,000 objections and it overwhelmed the court. He also said the court was kind of blown away by that, as was the tribe. “At the first settlement discussion we had, they were basically complaining out loud about how much we had done,” stated Semanko.
He continued, “The bottom line of all that is you guys were relevant, you were at the table, you weren’t going to be dismissed, you weren’t going to be ignored and you weren’t going to be forgotten. That was the first thing you did.
“Then the second thing you did, as those cases moved forward, you made it clear to the United States, the tribe and the state of Idaho, who have been friends through most of this, and to the other parties involved, that we were going to be a player, that we were actually going to be a part of litigation, we were going to be filing motions and were going to be defending our own water rights in this process. So the way to do this is, you go systematically through all these claims.
“The 364 claims break down, whether it’s nine claims filed by the Forest Service, we show those guys we are willing to litigate and we have had to litigate some of them. We won in the court where they feel that because they are the federal government they don’t have to play by the same rules that the rest of us play by, showing beneficial use, showing quantity disputed, the sources it comes from, etc. These are places where it could impact our uses. It could impact folks like the city of Coeur d’Alene, could impact folks like Rathdrum Power customers, and could impact any of you along a stream or anyone who uses a spring or whatever.
“They took that issue up and we and the state fought that and won summary judgements and now they have to go back to the drawing board and refile their claims.
“Some of the other ones we settled with the Forest Service weren’t that difficult to settle. The one single claim on the St. Joe: We settled that in a way it doesn’t impact any local users, we made sure they were protected in their water rights. Those are pretty well under control.”
He went on to mention the remaining 353 claims that were filed on behalf of the tribe. “Those range from a minimum lake level to minimum flows in the tributaries where folks divert water and use water, to ground water for any fanciful need they could ever imagine having in the future and even off the reservation. Those cases are moving ahead now.” Semanko said his efforts have been on a dual track, with his firm litigating, while they’ve been attempting to get to settlement.
Semanko reported that about December 2015 he sent a comprehensive settlement framework to the United States and the tribe and it didn’t get a lot of traction. “We sat down and reviewed it with their attorneys, they sent a counter proposal back in the middle of last year, we sent a revised proposal back to them and then all of a sudden two things happened. First, we were moving along with litigation when a summary judgment briefing was scheduled. We are going to have a hearing in North Idaho. We filed a motion on behalf of our client group, to make sure that the hearing isn’t held in Twin Falls. That’s ok for some of the hearings and there is the ability to participate with video conferencing out of the Coeur d’Alene Department of Water Resources office. This hearing is so big and so important we insisted that it be held in North Idaho. The court granted that motion.”
That hearing will be held in Coeur d’Alene on March 30th at the old courthouse in courtroom #1 starting at 9 AM. In that hearing The United States, the State of Idaho, Semanko’s law firm on behalf of their client group and Hecla have all filed for a summary judgement that will have to be heard in court. Semanko says he expects this to all come to a head on March 30th.
The second thing that happened is that he saw a marked change in attitudes by government employees and their legal representation after the election. Back in 2001, after George W. Bush got elected, some settlements moved along more quickly. Now he is already sensing more cautionary actions on their part as a result of President Trump’s election. He stated folks that work for the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the primary ones, do not literally know who they will be reporting to or receiving direct orders from and they are really worried about that. He said there is a definite level of uncertainty now. “Although they are not willing to settle they are listening now and more intent on having settlement discussions scheduled,” reported Semanko.
Semanko finished by saying he suspects that within the next month or so he will see a framework set up for settlement discussions and negotiations set up as they continue to march forward with the litigation. “If we reach a settlement it will be a settlement that has us at the table as pursuant to terms that we’re willing to agree to and it protects our water rights and our way of life. That would be the settlement that we ultimately agree to. In the meantime, we will continue to litigate and we will continue to fight just as that guy said ‘We’re doing so much winning right now, we might get tired of it.'” – (Which appropriately drew a long standing applause).
NWPOA IS YOUR FREEDOM INSURANCE
Well known, prominent Kootenai County business leader Brent Regan warmed up the crowd with pertinent remarks and some humor while delivering one of the most important and memorable remarks of the evening, “We Can Stop a Lot by Being Big and Strong.”
He acknowledged that Agenda 21 has been replaced by Agenda 2030 from the UN which wants to do no less than take care of everything. They want to arrange it so that our healthcare, our food and our housing, our wages, our education and our resources are all taken care of. He said we’ve got a system like that in our country already. It’s called a prison, and 150 years ago we had another system like that, it was called the plantation.
Regan said, “Wait a minute, it couldn’t happen here, it can’t happen here in Coeur d’Alene. They wouldn’t have any kind of a pre-conditioning, visioning 2030 thing here. They do. ‘Visioning 2030,’ in Coeur d’Alene! And, the greater area. Us.
“These guys, the ‘you didn’t build it crowd,’ …you know, ‘You’ve got enough of something,’ you don’t need 20 acres, wait a minute, why don’t you move into this apartment we’ve built for you in town and you can work in the factory that’s downstairs and you can eat in the restaurant that’s next door to that and educate your children in the school that’s across the street. We’ll set it all up.
“No thank you.”
Regan analogized that for the same reason we have insurance for protection, he realized that NWPOA works very hard for property owners’ water and property rights by attending and monitoring pertinent meetings, combating legislative proposals and legal defense. “NWPOA is your freedom insurance. That’s why they need our support. They are working for us right now. You heard what Norm was talking about with impact fees, not only did they get those wiped out, they got them refunded. The Unified Land Use Code, gone. You buy insurance for your house. What’s the chance of your house burning down? Tiny. What’s the chance of you getting robbed? A little bit more maybe. What’s the chance that somebody is coming after your property rights? Ahhh…, 100%. It’s a sure thing. They’re on their way, they’re knocking on the door. How are they going to do that? It’s important to be vigilant and ready.
“Imagine Paul Revere: ‘Oh look, there are the regulars, the troops are coming, I better go buy a horse and a saddle and get some friends together.’ If he hadn’t been prepared, we’d be saying ‘God save the queen.’
“So you have to do it ahead of time so we can be prepared to have the systems in place so when the threat arises ‘Let’s go get ’em guys. Let’s get ’em.’ That’s why we need to support this organization. They are our defense, they are our men on the walls, our guards at the gate. Freedom isn’t free, you know. That’s why we support NWPOA. I support NWPOA because it’s already helped. They’ve already helped me and I support them as a result of that. Because if I didn’t support them, someday when I’d be sitting in front of my maker for judgment, he’d say, ‘Brent, did you leave any debts behind?’ Well…no. I supported NWPOA, I paid my debts. Because they helped me, I helped them.
“I supported NWPOA because I feel better knowing that they are there. I don’t have to worry as much, I don’t have to think, oh crap, are they pulling something down in the county office requiring me to go down and sit through boring meetings. NWPOA board member, Carla Woempner sits through countless, hours and hours and hours of meetings just to make sure that nothing bad happens. Do you all want to do that? Thank goodness we’ve got somebody that will.
“Country folk need to stick together. Because we are the only defense. If we don’t have the numbers and we don’t stick together, it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans. NWPOA’s founder, Bob Bingham has been telling us that from day one.
“Finally, I support NWPOA for one really important reason. They don’t bother me. I don’t have to pay a fee or a subscription. They don’t call you up. They don’t ring you in the middle of the night. They don’t do any of that, they just sit there and do their work for you. So I return the favor. The only time you get bothered is when I stand up here with a microphone.
Regan challenged the crowd to match him for his personal $1000 check or he’d tear it up (he got 6 matches). He went on to do the same with a check for $500 (2 matches), one for $250 (2 matches) and one for $100 (15 matches).
He then proceeded to hype everyone’s participation in the silent auction to be held after the keynote speaker Russ Fulcher speaks.
‘WE MUST TRANSITION POWER BACK TO CITIZENS’
Brent Regan’s words “We Can Stop a Lot by Being Big and Strong” were more than bolstered by former Idaho State Senator and announced candidate for Governor, Russ Fulcher with his statement “We must transition power back to citizens.”
“More than a third of our statewide budget comes from federal channels and that source is more than $20 trillion in debt. As a function of that, often times we are a subsidiary of that government and we are compelled to function within accordance of their directions.”
He pointed out that our dependency on that federal government is a function of not having control of our resources and that in the 62% of our land controlled by the federal government our access to those resources are very, very limited. He said that there is an undeniable relationship between an economy and resource management.
Fulcher acknowledged that when you take the 62% of Idaho’s land controlled by the federal government and add to it the approximately 8% controlled by the state and then take into consideration the restrictions that come with regulations that come from EPA, Endangered Species etc., etc., we are functioning on about 20% of the resources under our feet. “Imagine if we had a significant percentage larger than that 20%. Whoever controls our resources, controls our economic destiny. This is a statewide issue, it might vary whether it is BLM grazing land, or timber or minerals or whatever.”
He reiterated what another speaker, Brent Regan had said earlier, “We have a federal government that is in position to control, but is $20 trillion in debt, they’re overextended, they don’t manage because they can’t, they can’t afford to. On top of that, we have certain groups who have locked into the lie, activist groups buying into this line that somehow doing nothing is good for the environment. That is a model that is not sustainable.”
“Our new President is a businessman and he understands the issue of debt service and what debt service means to the economy. I think some things are going to start changing.
“Consider the dynamic of eastern states vs. western states. Eastern states have almost no federal land, the western states are primarily federal land. For every dollar you and I put into the federal treasury we get about $1.35 or $1.36 back in federal money/subsidies. On the surface that sounds great, we get more than we put in. Well, consider that all those federal dollars come with strings attached. If you wonder how we get things like the Affordable Care Act health exchanges, Common Core and that type of thing, that’s how it happens. We don’t get the money unless we agree to the federal direction.
“So eastern states, they are just the reverse, they get about 65% to 67% back depending on the state. They are subsidizing us and they are starting to lose their sense of humor over this, and I don’t blame them.
“New President, east vs. west and there is a Western Coalition that is also developing here in the west that is formulating some legal challenges against the federal government, with potential change in resource management. Inertia is building on change and how all this is all coming down. Currently, we have no vision, we have no plan in our state on how to deal with that.
NWPOA Board Members: Jeff Tyler, Ken Renner, Jim Eder, chairman Alan Littlejohn, Joe Rush, and Carla Woempner with former senator and gubernatorial candidate Russ Fulcher, NWPOA founder/former chairman and current Kootenai County Commissioner Bob Bingham and Idaho Senator Steve Vick
“That’s one of the reasons I appreciate this organization so much. You put a charter out there, you’re organized and you’re out engaged in this battle. There are too few organizations out doing this. Those that say we can’t do it, those that say we can’t afford to engage in this, I say just the reverse. We can’t afford not to engage in this battle.
“So we are roundly approaching a time where it’s a binary decision. Either the resource base under our feet is going to be controlled by bureaucrats 3000 miles away or it’s going to be controlled by someone more local. There needs to be a broad assembly of state voters from all different interests brought together, a thoughtful plan put together so that when this does transition, I would maintain that it is when, not if, we’re ready for it. Brent said we’ve got to be prepared and we are not prepared. We have got to be prepared.
“If we do this right, our sportsmen, our outdoorsmen, the environmental community wins, Idaho citizens, our taxpayers win and even the federal government wins because we are properly managing this incredible asset that’s literally going up in smoke as it is.” Fulcher wrapped this up by encouraging the attendees to talk a lot about Idaho’s resources.”
On other issues, Fulcher mentioned that healthcare is a huge issue. He stated that with the new administration he believes we are pointed in the right direction but 18% of Idaho’s GDP goes into this and 40% of Medicare/Medicaid goes into administration costs which is simply inefficient. “Regardless of what happens in Washington DC, on the state level, we need to engage on that front with healthcare savings accounts, health club memberships, clinics and more competition. There are a number of things we can control at the state level.”
He also stated that there are education issues which are a huge, huge topic for the state of Idaho. “You might have picked up on that I am not a fan of Common Core and I believe that empowerment needs to go toward our teachers, it needs to go to our parents and not some government overseer.”
“The bottom line is regardless of the issue whether its resources, property rights, tax reform, healthcare, or education the transition of power has got to go back to the citizens. When the citizens have more control and money in their pocket, first of all, that’s our foundational economy. When that’s the case, we have a better accountability, we have more personal freedoms and more prosperity. Quite frankly, I am optimistic that now is a good time and that we can do that here.
“I am absolutely convinced that Idaho has all the tools, our human resources, our natural resources, our education system, our industry base. I am incredibly optimistic. But it does hinge on our leadership.”