Friday, October 31, 2014

U.S. gas price to drop below $3.00 per gallon for first time since 2010; but sorry, not you, Idaho

Idaho average price is down 32 cents in past 30 days, but nowhere near $3.00

BOISE - (October 31, 2014) – The national average price of gas today will drop below $3.00 per gallon for the first time since Dec. 22, 2010, ending the longest streak above that price, according to AAA. But Idahoans hoping to get on the bandwagon may have to wait awhile.

Despite a 32-cent drop in Idaho’s average price in the past thirty days, Idaho’s $3.28 average mark is well above the national mark of $3.003. Idaho’s average price today for regular unleaded gasoline is seventh highest in the U.S.

“Consumers are experiencing ‘sticker delight’ as gas prices unexpectedly drop below $3.00 in much of the country,” said Bob Darbelnet, CEO of AAA. “Lower gas prices are a boon to the economy just in time for holiday travel and shopping.”

The national average price of gas has remained more expensive than $3.00 per gallon for 1,409 consecutive days. During that 46-month period, gas prices averaged $3.52 per gallon and reached as high as $3.98 per gallon on May 5, 2011.

The last time Idaho recorded an average price of $3.00 was February 8, 2011. Idaho’s average price today of $3.28 compares to $3.51 a year ago.

More than 60 percent of all U.S. stations are selling gas for less than $3.00 per gallon today. Consumers can find at least one station selling gas for less than $3.00 per gallon in nearly every state.

AAA anticipates gasoline prices may continue to drop in the near term, but it is possible that prices in many areas will begin to stabilize soon. “Unless there are unexpected developments, gasoline should remain relatively inexpensive this winter due to lower demand and typical seasonal trends,” said AAA Idaho spokesman Dave Carlson.

“As we’ve said previously, Idaho is slow to react to market factors, in part because there is no readily available competition due to the region’s limited market access,” Carlson said. “But prices should continue to drop in coming weeks.”

Lower crude oil prices, lower driving demand and the switchover by refineries to winter grade gasoline that is less expensive to produce are behind current lower prices.

Intermediate crude oil has dropped more than $20 per barrel since late June due to strong production and concerns about the global economy, particularly in Europe and Asia.

There are also reports that some OPEC nations, such as Saudi Arabia, would be willing to let prices fall to maintain a competitive market share.

Idaho communities show a range of prices today. Average prices: Boise, $3.31; Coeur d’Alene, $2.92; Pocatello, $3.18.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Idaho leases thousands more acres for oil and gas development

The Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) auctioned oil and gas leases for 5,238.76 acres of State owned lands and minerals Oct. 15 in Boise.

The auction generated $263,229 in bonus bids for the State endowment trusts that support Idaho's public school system, Idaho State University, State Juvenile Corrections Center, State Hospital North, Idaho State Veterans Homes, and the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind.

The leases were for 600 acres in Cassia County; 4,478.76 acres in Owyhee County; and 160 acres in Gem County.

Trendwell West, Inc., was awarded leases on eight tracts for $190,000 in bonus bids, and AM Idaho, LLC was awarded leases on three tracts for $73,229 in bonus bids.

The average bid was approximately $46 per acre.

The highest competitive bid was $105 per acre on approximately 638 acres located in Owyhee County. The lease sold for $67,871.

With this auction, the total amount of State owned lands and minerals leased for oil and gas development is more than 97,900 acres. In 2014 alone, IDL held oil and gas lease auctions for more than 31,600 acres of State owned land and minerals, and generated more than $2.1 million in revenue for the State of Idaho.

Increased leasing activity is an indication of greater interest in developing the resource. Thousands more acres of privately owned lands and minerals are leased for oil and gas development.

All of the mineral rights auctioned for oil and gas leases are owned by the State endowment trust. Lands and minerals owned by the State endowment trust are managed under a constitutional mandate to generate maximum long-term income for public schools and other specific State beneficiaries.

Sixteen wells in Idaho are drilled and ready for development or already in development. The next auction for State oil and gas leases is scheduled for Jan. 21, 2015.

Open enrollment for Medicare prescription drug and Medicare Advantage plans

This is the time of year to review your Medicare Part D (Prescription Drug Plan) and compare it with other Prescription Drug plans to make sure you have the plan that best fits your needs.

The open enrollment period to change your Medicare Part D plan for 2015 started Oct. 15, and ends Dec. 7. You can find and compare prescription drug plans on the web site. Also beginning in 2015 there are a couple of new Medicare Advantage plans available for those living in Clearwater, Lewis, and Idaho Counties.

If you do not have a computer or need assistance navigating the web site, Senior Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA) are available on Thursday mornings and Fridays during the open enrollment period at the Ascension Lutheran Church in Orofino.

Please call 1-800-247-4422 to make an appointment. SHIBA is part of a nationwide organization of Medicare State Health Insurance Programs that supports and trains local counselors to help Medicare recipient’s access benefits and information about Medicare. All counseling sessions are free of charge.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Nez Perce-Clearwater Forests welcome hunters

Hunters have some good informational tools to choose from this hunting season to assist them in the Nez-Perce Clearwater National Forests. Recently, the 2014 Clearwater Forest Motor Vehicle Use Map (MVUM), Clearwater Motorized Travel Guide were released, and MVUMS and Nez Perce and Clearwater Visitor Maps can be downloaded on the Avenza app.

Adding to those three tools is the Mobility Impaired Hunter Access Program offered at some forest offices. This year, the Red River, Lochsa and North Fork Ranger Districts are participating in this program where hunters holding an Idaho Handicapped Persons Vehicle Hunting Permit and valid hunting license will be granted a permit to access certain closed roads.

One non-hunting assistant may accompany the mobility-impaired hunter behind the closed gate. The permits will be made available on a first-come, first-served basis by reservation only.

The Red River Ranger District is once again participating in the program and offers Trapper Creek Road #9550 in Hunting Unit 20 and Center Star Road #1110 and Moose Butte Road #1150 in Hunting Unit 15. For more information, or to reserve a road, please contact their office in Elk City at (208) 842-2245.

The Lochsa Ranger District offers three roads in Hunting Unit 12: Canyon Creek Road #445, Deadman Creek Road #5541, and Middle Deadman Creek Road #5543. For more information, or to reserve a road, please contact their office in Kooskia at (208) 926-4274.

The North Fork Ranger District has opened Lost Bugle Road #5222 to handicapped hunters. Persons taking part in the Mobility Impaired Hunter Access Program will be allowed to drive pickups, passenger cars and ATVs on Road #5222; the road is gated and usually off-limits to motorized vehicles. Hunting parties will be allowed to camp within ¼ mile of the gate. Camping beyond this point is prohibited. For more information, please contact their office in Orofino at (208) 476-8267.

There are approximately 2,961 miles of motorized roads, open yearlong or seasonally on the Clearwater National Forest. There are 1,400 miles of maintained trails in the Clearwater NF system. All of the trails are open to hikers and most are open to stock. Many are available for mountain bikes. Non-motorized trails are not shown on the MVUM. Some trails are available for motorcycles and small vehicles 50 inches or less, these trails are shown on the MVUM.

Make sure you learn which specific areas or hunting units are open to OHVs during big game hunting seasons. The Clearwater MVUM displays all National Forest System roads and trails allowing public motor vehicle use. Motorized use includes but is not limited to motorcycles, ATVs, and four-wheel drive vehicles.

OHVs wider than 50” are only allowed on roads open to motorized use during hunting season.

Staying on designated routes provides positive benefits to wildlife, water and other natural resources and social values.

Most scenic overlooks, historical sites and popular travel routes are still accessible to motorized users.

Motorized users may also access dispersed campsites (within 300 feet of most roads and 100 feet of most motorized trails, indicated on the MVUM).

You can use your trail machine to scout for game and access your hunting camp, but it's illegal to shoot big game animals from your OHV. (Hunters with a disabled permit are exempt from this rule.)

Park your OHV if you need to leave a trail or road to retrieve a big game animal. Big game retrieval with a motor vehicle is allowed only where the big game retrieval symbol is displayed on the MVUM. The MVUM will indicate the distance from the route that motor vehicles may be driven for the purpose of big game retrieval.

Stop by your local Forest Service office to get your MVUMS, Travel Guides and Forest Visitor Maps before your hunt or fall trip into the woods. Or visit the forest website at

Unemployment below double digits in Clearwater County

Clearwater County’s August unemployment dropped to 9.1 percent, the lowest it has been in 2014, so far. In July it was 9.4 percent, and last August it was 11.9 percent.

Nearby counties also saw a decrease from July. Idaho County also dropped from 6.3 percent to 6 percent, and was also down from last year’s August rate of 8.4 percent.

Lewis County dropped to 4.1 percent, from July’s rate of 4.5 percent. Last August Lewis County’s unemployment rate was 5.4 percent.

Nez Perce County dropped from 4.3 percent to 4.1 percent. The figure was also down from last year’s August rate of 5.2 percent.

Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate resumed its downward trend in August, dropping a tenth of a point to 4.7 percent as employers hired at or just below the norm for the previous five years.

August’s decline matched a tenth-of-a-point drop in unemployment nationally, marking nearly 13 years Idaho’s rate has been lower than the nation’s. Idaho’s rate was 6.2 percent in August 2013.

The lower state unemployment rate was a result of more than 600 workers leaving the labor force while total employment fell fractionally for the second straight month. Businesses hired 18,600 workers during August, almost all to fill existing job vacancies, while new hires remained below August 2013 levels.

Idaho’s labor force participation rate for August–the percentage of adults working or actively looking for work–dropped another tenth of a percentage point to 63.5 percent. It was over 64 percent a year ago.

Of the 1,500 new jobs employers added in August, mining, logging and construction all generated slightly more jobs than usual, as did financial services, business services and restaurants.

That pushed total nonfarm jobs back over 664,000, almost 15,000 higher than August 2013 and 54,000 above the low point in the downturn in August 2010, but it was still 1,100 short of the prerecession August peak in 2007. The economy had another 77,000 jobs in August 2014 that were not covered by unemployment insurance. Those included tens of thousands of self-employed.

While the August job gains were almost evenly split between goods production and services, Idaho’s economy has been steadily shifting to services. In August 2007 as the expansion was peaking, 19.2 percent of Idaho’s nonfarm jobs were in goods production, which pays an average of $12,000 a year more than services. In August 2014, 15.8 percent of the jobs were in goods production.

Unemployment insurance benefit payments continued to run below year-earlier levels in August, totaling $6.8 million to a weekly average of 7,500 jobless workers. That compared to $7.5 million in regular benefits paid to a weekly average of 7,700 workers in August 2013 plus another $2.7 million in federally financed benefits to a weekly average of 3,000. Federally funded benefits ended at the close of 2013.

None of Idaho’s 44 counties saw unemployment rates in the double digits last month. Only eight saw monthly jobless rates increase between July and August while seven others posted no change. The lowest rate was 2.5 percent in Franklin County, the third time in the last five months that Franklin has been under 3 percent. The highest unemployment rate for July was 9.1 percent in Clearwater County, down another three-tenths from July.

Twenty-four counties had rates below the statewide rate of 4.7 percent, and the Coeur d’Alene metropolitan area at 5 percent was the only one of the five metro areas with jobless rates higher than the state rate.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Down with the old, up with the new

The Woodlot Tavern and Café sign has been replaced with a Northfork Café sign atop the Ahsahka building. Photo by Tabby Haskett

A bright new sign atop the old Woodlot Café and Tavern went up last Thursday, depicting the new name that will soon be on everyone’s tongue for the place serving the famous Lumberjack and Lumberjill hamburgers. That name is the Northfork Café.

The Northfork Café will fill the void that everyone has felt since the old Woodlot closed last February. Deb Brown, the sole owner of the café, has been working tirelessly since Aug. 1, with the help of several friends, completely refurbishing and bringing the old café up to code, and making it a state of the art family gathering place.

Not only will Deb be serving the varieties of hamburgers which patrons have been used to for years, but will be adding her own personal touch to the menu, featuring her homemade pies, cinnamon rolls, apple fritters, and scones. Deb has a lot of experience in cooking and baking to back her up, having trained in Culinary Arts as well as working in delis which specialize in made-from-scratch bakery items.

Opening the Northfork Café fulfills a life-long dream of Deb’s, to own a place of her own, and to make use of her many creative talents. To those who have driven up and down North Fork Road in Ahsahka, it is evident that Deb has been hard at work these last two months, doing much of her own heavy moving, stripping and painting, in tandem with different plumbing, electrical, and cooling/heating contractors, and especially the Health Department, to bring the entire establishment up to code.

She has also done her own re-upholstering of all the chairs and stools, sanded and refinished the wood tables to make them look like new, refinished walls, ceilings, and the walk-in cooler. There are new counters, new ceiling fans, and a bright and sparkling clean feel to the café, including color-coordinated curtains and plants to add to the friendly environment.

Many old photos of life as it was on the old North Fork of the Clearwater River will adorn the walls, and stenciled fish inside as well as on the outside walls of the building will pay homage to the theme of this being the Steelhead Capital of the World. Anglers will be especially welcome, as Deb is a dedicated angler herself, and can keep up with the best of them with her fish tales.

A beautiful addition to the “new” café is a Bistro table with eight tall chairs to match, which will be where the old pool table was. This table can be reserved for groups of six to eight, and will be in use a lot, Deb is sure. The table and chairs were a surprise gift from friends Dave and Donna Clifford, and the set matches the dark trim of the beams in the ceiling.

A newly-upholstered padded bar edge and carpeted kickpad at the bottom of the bar will welcome those stopping in for a beer, and Deb is working with both beer distributors to ensure that favorite brews will be carried. Good quality wines will also be available for those with discerning taste for another beverage.

In addition to anglers, everyone will be welcome including hunters, bikers, families and groups, and according to Deb, special attention will be paid to those who are on short lunch hours and wish to put in a telephone order and have their food ready on their arrival for pick-up.

Watch for the grand opening

It is hoped that the grand opening will happen the first week of November. Deb will be serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner seven days a week, and in getting ready to open, not everything will be available all at once, until Deb sees that each segment of the business is running smoothly.

Everyone is asked to be patient with both the availability of all menu items as well as the parking situation near and around the Northfork Café, which remains limited at the present time, as it was when the old Woodlot was open.

Deb hopes that everyone is as excited as she is to see that the Northfork Café becomes the “new” tradition!

ICARE continues to grow

By Dee Crane

The local area organization that financially helps cancer patients, ICARE, continues to provide benefits to those who are actively undergoing treatment.

Several things have taken place since our last update. We are saddened by the recent loss of one of our Board of Directors, Barbara Opdahl of Pierce. She was a great mentor and inspiration to many. She will certainly be missed at ICARE.

The numbers have changed significantly and the group has now helped 133 people and issued $59,400.00!

One thing that remains the same is the fact that we continue to have 100% volunteer leadership and management. When people support ICARE, their contributions go directly to help those in need.

The “Gift of Love” given is now at $500 and is meant to show support from the hearts of many as one travels their journey through cancer.

As a 501(c) 3 non-profit organization, government employees may choose to contribute through the Combined Federal Campaign.

An ICARE table will be set up at the Dig for the Cure event hosted by the Orofino volleyball teams. We invite everyone to come to the event Thursday, Oct. 2 at Orofino High School and participate in the heartfelt event that supports some great causes, including ICARE.

The many supporters over the past six and a half years have enabled the ICARE project to succeed and continue to help friends, neighbors and families in area communities. The chart below shows the number of people helped each year, the amount given each year, the wide distribution and thus the great need for the organization.

As we move forward into 2015, we will be looking to fill one position on the five-member Board of Directors. Anyone truly interested in being a committed and active Board member may contact ICARE at 476-5971.

If you or someone you know needs help from ICARE, contact us at 476-5971 or 476-7148.