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With input from the U.S. Forest Service, Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office, and Board of County Commissioners, the Kootenai County Snowgroomer program is no longer able to provide snow removal services on Fernan Hill Rd. due to limited resources and personnel. The grooming program is not equipped or staffed to maintain a public mountain road, in extreme winter conditions, commensurate with public safety expectations. The groomer program owns a thirty-year old loader that has exceeded its useful life expectancy. The cost to replace the equipment, coupled with the ongoing costs to maintain five-miles of steep mountain roadway during winter, is simply not feasible with the programs’ limited resources. Snow grooming programs are designed to provide groomed snowmobile trails that typically begin and end at parking areas and trailheads. Public roads are maintained by professional road districts, which utilize specialized equipment and personnel trained to provide this unique service.
At the April 6th 2022 Snowmobile Advisory Board meeting, the majority of the Advisory Board acknowledged the program should not maintain the Forest Service owned road and that funding should be concentrated on providing groomed snowmobile trails. However, the Advisory Board discussed their concern for the loss of access and made a recommendation to the County Commissioners to purchase a piece of equipment. At the June 22, 2022 meeting, the Board of County Commissioners stated that they did not have the funding necessary to purchase replacement equipment. The Commissioners also commented that the County should not maintain a road owned by another jurisdiction and that program resources should be used to groom snowmobile trails, because that is the primary function of the program and program resources are limited.
As of 2022, the grooming program receives approximately $85,000 in state registration funds and approximately $24,000 from groomer sticker sales annually. Nearly all of the combined funding is expended on fuel, maintenance, and repair of program equipment, which is very expensive to maintain and operate. Notably, the program does not generate enough funding to pay the County’s team of ten (10) employees to operate the program. The County Commissioners have generously subsidized program salaries to ensure its solvency.
The positive news is that more personnel time and other program resources can be used to groom trails, which is the primary function of the program.