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Idaho, states get extra time on insurance exchanges

Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter is expected to announce by a Nov. 16 deadline whether Idaho will adopt its own health exchange. But states now have a few more weeks to submit their final plans to the federal government or announce that they’d like to partner with the feds on an exchange.

U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius sent Otter and other governors a letter Nov. 9 saying some pending deadlines remain, including a Nov. 15 application deadline for grants from the federal government to set up an exchange and a Nov. 16 deadline for states to declare they will set up an exchange. However, states now have until Dec. 14 to submit the exchange blueprints and until Feb. 15 to say they’d create a partnership exchange, with the states and federal government sharing responsibilities.

Otter created a working group to study the issue, which recommended that the state set up its own exchange.

Spokesman Jon Hanian said he believes the governor will announce his decision by Nov. 16.

“What HHS did was buy us some time on the implementation phase,” Hanian said Nov. 13. “We still need to have a decision to them by this Friday.”

Health insurance exchanges are part of the 2010 federal health care laws. They are tools designed to help individual and business insurance buyers compare and pick health plans as well as receive federal subsidies.

As of Nov. 9, 11 states had decided not to create a state exchange, 16 states had established exchanges and four were planning for a partnership exchange between the state and federal government, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Idaho is one of 16 states still studying its options.

Brad Iverson-Long

Thompson Creek reports losses, CEO to retire

The Thompson Creek Metal Company announced Nov. 9 that Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Kevin Loughrey will retire within the next 18 months. The mining firm also reported millions of dollars in losses for the third quarter and first nine months of 2012.

For the third quarter of 2012, the company incurred a net loss of $48.2 million, compared with net income of $45.6 million for the third quarter last year. The company also recorded a net loss of $61.9 million for the first nine months of 2012, compared with net income of $291.3 million for the same period in 2011.

The company, based in Denver and Vancouver, B.C., owns Thompson Creek Mine, which produces molybdenum near Challis. In October, mine officials laid off about 100 people. At the time, those officials said Thompson Creek will suspend stripping activity associated with the next phase of production at its open pit mine in Idaho. Mining will continue as planned through 2014 in the phase that’s under way now.

Falling market prices for molybdenum and high operating costs are two principal reasons for income losses this year. John Tumazos, owner and senior analyst at Very Independent Research, believes the mining company’s creditors will replace Loughrey with someone who is going to cut costs further.

In addition to the mine in Idaho, Thompson Creek wholly owns Langeloth Metallurgical Facility in Pennsylvania and owns 75 percent of Endako Mine in northern British Columbia, Canada. The company is constructing a copper-gold mine in Mount Milligan also in northern British Columbia, which is expected to commence production in 2013.

Scott Ki

Idaho expands surveillance area for brucellosis

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture is expanding its Designated Surveillance Area in eastern Idaho for brucellosis, a bacterial infection that can cause infertility and miscarriages in wildlife.

The new expansion places all of Freemont County in the surveillance area, which joins portions of Bonneville, Teton and Caribou Counties that have been part of the surveillance area since 2010.

Brucellosis is a bacterial infection that is common in Yellowstone National Park and spreads when wildlife, usually elk, travel outside the park in winter looking for food, said Scott Leibsle, ISDA deputy bureau chief of the Animal Industries Division. The elk mingle with cattle, who can catch the disease from leftover birthing fluids and placentas the elk leave behind in the spring, he said.

Inside the surveillance areas, cattle owners are warned to keep their livestock away from elk. They are also required to test any sold animals and any animals being shipped out of state, Leibsle said.

The borders were expanded after field tests, usually taken by elk hunters, showed positive results for brucellosis in elk outside of the existing area, he said.

Sean Olson

Boise State professor honored for short stories

Boise State University professor Alan Heathcock is being honored locally for “Volt,” a story collection that has garnered national praise and awards, including the 2012 Whiting Award.

In Boise, “Volt” was recognized as one of the top five books in Idaho as part of the Top Idaho Authors and Awards event, part of the Idaho Book Extravaganza.

“Volt” last year was selected as “best book” by almost a dozen magazines and newspapers, including the Cleveland Plain Dealer, GQ, Publishers Weekly, Salon, and the Chicago Tribune. It was named as a New York Times Editors’ Choice. It has also won several other awards, including in October the Whiting, which comes with a $50,000 prize. Past winners of the Whiting Award include Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, Tony Kushner and Sarah Ruhl.

The three-year-old Top Idaho Authors and Awards event carries less literary weight than the Whiting and no cash prize, but it signifies early efforts to strengthen the state’s publishing industry and the quality of its literature, said its founder, Maryanna Young.

Young estimated as many as 5,000 books are published in Idaho each year. Many are self-published. About 300 books are put out through mainstream houses like the Boise-based Aloha Publishing, the house Young founded. It’s from those 300 books that the Idaho awards program chooses ten fiction and ten non-fiction winners, as well as authors and books in a host of other categories.

“Everybody in the top 10 is selling on the global marketplace out of Idaho,” Young said.

Idaho writer Anthony Doerr was an Idaho award winner last year.

IBR Staff

ICCU building branch at Meridian Gateway

Idaho Central Credit Union will build its 21st branch on the southeast corner of Eagle and Ustick roads in Meridian. The credit union, headquartered in Chubbuck, recently purchased a 1.18 acre pad in the Gateway Marketplace shopping center.

Construction is scheduled to start in January and finish in May. Laura Smith, a spokeswoman for ICCU, said construction costs would be similar to other branches of the credit union. She said the credit union bought the land because of traffic both on the roads and at ICCU’s nearby Fairview Avenue location.

“This is one of the busiest intersections in Idaho,” Smith said. “This new location will allow us to build a larger branch, designed specifically to handle a large portion of the Fairview Branch’s traffic load, as well as facilitate further growth and convenience.”

ICCU is building its 20th branch in Eagle. On Nov. 5, the company opened a new location in Chubbuck, located half a mile south of a now-closed branch and close to the company’s headquarters. ICCU, which has more locations than any other Idaho credit union, has 384 employees and more than 120,000 members.

Brad Iverson-Long

Fire season winding down in Idaho

Clearer skies in the Treasure Valley and the deluge of rain Boise saw in October raised the question: Has Idaho seen the season-ending event that’s supposed to put out the state’s huge 2012 wildfires?

“Well, that’s not as simple as answering yes or no,” said Ed Delgado, national predictive services meteorologist with the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise. “We’re really going to see a gradual winding down.”

Delgado said the idea of a season-ending event is something of a myth. Idaho’s large fires will continue to smolder until the forestlands see prolonged, heavy snow- or rainfall. Extinguishing the fires will be the result of a cumulative weather change, rather than a single “event.”

But with cooler autumn weather and shorter day lengths, the fires will lose some of their gusto. Shorter days mean a longer span each day of cooler temperatures, and cooler weather means vegetation is better able to retain its moisture, Delgado said, dampening fire’s ability to burn forest fuels.

There probably is not much threat of additional large fires, Delgado said. “That’s pretty much over with.” However, with hunting season in progress, people still need to practice proper fire safety when building and extinguishing wildland campfires. “That’s just common sense.” Delgado said hunters should also be aware of fire danger from muzzle flash.

The state of Idaho has paid about $12.5 million dollars in 2012 for fire suppression, according to Emily Callahan with the Department of Lands. The Northern Rockies Coordination Center estimates that federal costs to suppress large fires (larger than 100 acres) in northern Idaho in 2012 was $52.4 million. Kim Whalen, a logistics coordinator with the Eastern Great Basin Coordination Center, said the estimated federal suppression cost for large fires in southern Idaho was $150.4 million.

Some smoke will return to Idaho skies this month as the Bureau of Land Management conducts prescribed burns that were slated to begin Nov. 5. About 400 acres are due for the burns, including acreage near Silver City, a site near Bennett Mountain and in spots near Smith’s Ferry.

Cady McGovern

Feds ask for extension on waste cleanup at INL

The U.S. Department of Energy has asked Idaho officials for an extension of one year on deadlines involving cleanup of high-level radioactive waste at the Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho.

The (Idaho Falls) Post Register reports in a story published Nov. 7 that the federal agency failed to meet a September deadline to begin treating the waste at the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit, and it will also miss a Dec. 31 deadline to submit a schedule for processing the waste.

The 900,000 gallons of waste came from processing spent nuclear fuel from U.S. Navy ships. Plans call for converting the waste into a solid form and removing it from the INL. Currently it’s stored in tanks at the INL’s Idaho Nuclear Technology and Engineering Center.

“We’ve had technical issues” with the treatment of this waste, DOE spokesman Brad Bugger said. “We will eventually complete these milestones.”

Officials said the delay was caused because nonradioactive material clogged a filter at the Integrated Waste Treatment Unit.

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality is taking public comments on the request for the extension.

Missing the deadlines means the state could start imposing fines of $10,000 a day, though Department of Environmental Quality spokesman Brian Monson said no decision has been made on that.

Because the extension request is for a year or more, it automatically triggered the public comment period in Idaho.

The Associated Press

Northern Idaho reptile business owners to pay $15K

A northern Idaho reptile dealer must refund $15,000 to former customers, is forbidden from selling sick or dying animals and can’t make unsubstantiated claims about its animals’ genetic qualities.

The settlement announced Nov. 8 by the Idaho attorney general’s office also prevents owners of Coeur d’Alene-based TMT Reptiles from making claims about their supposed specialized knowledge regarding genetics or breeding that they don’t actually have.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden says owners including Timothy M. West were the subject of numerous complaints from customers who spent thousands on bearded dragons, geckos, tortoises and other animals, in the hopes of setting up lucrative breeding businesses.

Despite West’s claims, the attorney general says the animals often failed to breed — or died.

A $15,000 civil penalty will be held in abeyance, pending West’s compliance.

The Associated Press

Nature Conservancy hopes to preserve Idaho forest, logging

A national environmental group acquired a half of a square mile of moose, elk and bear habitat in northern Idaho in hopes of helping restore its natural qualities before selling it to a private buyer who would be allowed to continue sustainable timber harvests.

The Nature Conservancy announced Nov. 8 it acquired a ponderosa pine, Douglas fir and hardwood forest at the foot of Hall Mountain in northern Boundary County, not far from the Canadian border.

The group plans to do restoration projects.

After that, it would place a conservation easement on the property that allows for sustainable timber harvests before selling the 317-acre parcel located next to publicly owned land.

Officials with the group called the transaction a “win-win situation” for the local resource-based economy and the region’s wildlife.

The Associated Press

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