SANDPOINT — Bonner County commissioners decided on a 2-0 vote Tuesday to force the payment of a $10,000 grant to the Pacific Legal Foundation, which is representing the county in its effort to have woodland caribou stricken from the Endangered Species list.
County commissioners applied for the grant from Priest Lake People Helping People in May and received a check from the group in June, county records indicate.
The money was to be turned over to Pacific Legal to cover direct legal costs involving the de-listing petition. But the legal nonprofit never received the funds.
“We felt this was a done deal back on June 21. Now I find out that it hasn’t been paid and needs to be paid,” Commissioner Mike Nielsen said on Tuesday.
Nielsen inquired about the payment issue, but said he never received a response from county Clerk Marie Scott.
“She has refused to answer the question,” said Nielsen.
Nielsen said the county was drawing interest from the grant funds even though the money belonged to Pacific Legal. Nielsen also criticized Scott for her ongoing lack of cooperation with the board.
Nielsen moved to draw up a payment demand and Commissioner Lewis Rich seconded the motion for discussion purposes.
“I’d like to know why it wasn’t paid,” said Chairman Cornel Rasor, whose sentiment was echoed by Rich.
Scott declines to go before the board without independent legal counsel and was not present during the discussion.
Rich abstained from the vote because it was unclear to him why the county was still holding the money and said there may be good reason for it.
Scott, in an email to The Daily Bee, said the money was never given to Pacific Legal because the county never received a billing from the foundation. Absent the billing, Scott said she could not pay.
“Mike’s say-so doesn’t cut it in the world of finances,” Scott said in the message.
Moreover, Scott said she advised the board that her office had not received a billing and was still holding the funds.
The county engaged the Sacramento, Calif.-based legal foundation last spring in a bid to thwart the designation of 375,000 acres in the Panhandle and eastern Washington as critical habitat for woodland caribou.
Opponents of habitat designation contend it will cast a pall over recreational pursuits in the Selkirk Mountains. Supporters of the move assert that the issue is being blown out of proportion and won’t inhibit recreation at Priest Lake.