A peculiar procurement by INL

By Seth Ogilvie, Idaho Reports

The Idaho National Laboratory is accepting new projects at the advanced test reactor complex in part because of an item purchased on Amazon.com.


The INL ordered a cable that’s a critical part of a neutron level meter. The meter is essential for judging reactor power. Neutrons are a key parameter, because the neutrons and the power are directly proportional.

Location of the drive cable.jpg

It is the B channel in the log meter, meaning it is the fail-safe for the A channel that performs the same function. It’s necessary to comply with regulations placed on this nuclear reactor. There is also an additional meter on top of the A and B channels. That additional meter displays the current power but it does not record the trend, and knowing if the reactor is trending up or down is important for the operation.

The example Sean O’Kelly Associate Laboratory Director for the INL Advanced Test Reactor used was of a car’s speedometer. “Seatbelts are safety functions you can’t operate your car without them,” he said. “You can get by without a speedometer but if the law requires you to have one you must have one.”

And the car analogy also works for why they went on Amazon to find the part. “It’s like an old car, and finding parts just isn’t as easy as it used to be,” O’Kelly said. The part is no longer manufactured, and building one internally would be expensive, so they went online.

“It’s not typical. It’s a non-traditional supply source,” he said. “But in this case, I’ll give the engineer credit for being very resourceful and innovative in finding a product that saved us money and saved the taxpayer money and got us back into operation very quickly.”


There are two reactors in the ATR complex: One is small, one is large. This part comes from the small reactor, a place they use to test measurements and parameters before placing experiments in the big reactor. “Before we put anything into the big reactor (ATR) we put it into ATRC and verify their performance is as expected,” O’Kelly said.

Without the ATRC, some work could still be done. Experiments that have already taken place in the past or are almost identical could continue, but it would curtail new experiments or significant modifications to old experiments.

And those new experiments are vital. In a recent report by the National Energy Advisory Committee INL Director Mark Peters highlighted the need.

“INL clearly needs to be an engineering laboratory in the modern sense, one that values the synergies between science and engineering,” he wrote. “The danger is that INL be pigeon-holed as a place where work is done rather than a true innovator. It is critically important that INL build up its scientific credentials without sacrificing its unique identity.”

The report pointed to collaboration with private and public institutions on research as critical for the INL’s future — research that has a good chance of going through the ATRC.


Presentations dating back more than a decade have highlighted the ATRC control console, and this log count rate meter specifically, for replacement and modernization. “I think in the next couple of years we will replace the whole system that the cable fits into, that paper chart recorder is 1960 1957 technology,” O’Kelly said. “We’re going to be replacing that technology with something modern and brand new.”

But in the meantime, the engineers are doing what they can to keep the 50-year-old complex up and running, and they’re doing it up to code and as cost effectively as possible. O’Kelly added parts have to be “evaluated and physically examined and verified that it would meet its performance requirements before it was installed.”

And $12.75 sounds like an incredibly efficient use of funds to keep a nuclear reactor up and running, but Idaho Reports, being the fiscal watchdogs that we are, would like to point out they could have saved an additional $7.48 on shipping if they were Amazon Prime members… something to think about for the future.


How to overturn an election.


By Nishant Mohan

The Senate State Affairs Committee voted unanimously to recommend the senate confirm the election of Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello, after reviewing a contest of election by Nye’s opponent, Tom Katsilometes, Monday.

Katsilometes alleged Nye received illegal campaign contributions, violated “The Sunshine Law,” and was given an advantage in the election by faulty ballot machines.

“I just don’t think any of these issues are sufficient enough, if they even exist, are they sufficient enough to lead us to a new election or any other conclusion,” said Sen. Pro Tem Brent Hill. “If a possible violation of title 67 chapter 66 would create grounds for a contest of election, how many of us would be in trouble? Just go onto the Secretary of State’s website and look at how many amendment campaign disclosure reports are filed.”

Some senators on the committee said they felt rushed in the time allowed for them to understand the material.

“It was rather daunting when the secretary of state brought the apple box full of documents to us and said ‘good luck,’” said Sen. Siddoway, chair of the committee.

Idaho Code 34-2106 allows any elector to contest an election. The code defines an elector as anyone registered to vote in the election. The contestant need only contest within 20 days of the election. The statute has no other restrictions, and the body is required to review the contest.

Nye and Katsilometes’ counsels faced about an hour of questioning each from Republican senators, mostly from Majority Leader Sen. Bart Davis. Democratic senators asked no questions of either side. Nye, though present, did not speak during the proceeding and no questions were asked of him.

Contest of an election is rare, and last occurred in 1981. Minutes of the State Affairs Committee from the time state that then-Lt. Governor Phil Batt presented to the committee “the ‘box’ which he had received from the Secretary of State and which contained material pertaining to the election challenge of Senator Peavy.”

By contesting the election, Katsilometes was granted power of subpoena by Idaho Code 34-2108, a power only limited by the incumbent’s ability to challenge the subpoenas. This power is granted to anyone contesting an election. The legislature is given the authority to hear challenges and Hill deferred one of the only two challenges to Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis and reviewed the other himself.

In the 1981 case, lawmakers on the committee expressed concern over ease of contesting an election.

“Anyone can sue you if the have the money to file,” said then-Sen. Jim Risch at the time. “This may be something that needs looking at in the future in our laws.”

Article 3 Section 9 of the Idaho Constitution states that “Each house, when assembled shall…judge of the election, qualifications and returns of its own members…”

“The senate has absolute discretion here,” said Brian Kane, assistant chief deputy to the attorney general. “There is no appeal.”

Lt. Governor Brad Little said last week that state code requires the Secretary of State’s office collect and deliver evidence in the case of a contested election, regardless of whether the evidence is substantial. He said the code was originally intended to require the presentation of the actual ballots, but that a modern contest looks different.

The minutes from the 1981 contest state that several committee members raised questions about improving the election laws on challenges, voter registration, and roving registrars.

Sen. Jeff Siddoway, who chaired the committee, said the senate is looking at ways to improve this process and will be exploring legislation throughout the year.

Nye, formerly a member of the Idaho House of Representatives, was elected last year to the Idaho Senate.


Democrats agree with the Governor’s vision but doubt likelihood.

By Nishant Mohan

With no action taken last year to provide healthcare to the Medicaid gap, expand the Idaho Human Rights Act to LGBT citizens, or increase public education spending well above pre-recession levels, Democrats objected to parts of Governor C. L. “Butch” Otter’s State of the State Address.

The speech and minority party’s response echoed last year’s.

“We agree that the governor has set a strategic vision by shooting for 60 percent post-high school educational attainment, but we doubt the governor can influence the majority party to accomplish his vision,” said House Minority Leader Matt Erpelding.

Idaho Democrats share Governor Otter’s priority on education, but have their own emphasis on early childhood education. Erpelding said his party supports a proposal he called a “gateway to early childhood education” put forth by Idaho Business for Education to prepare 4-year-olds for kindergarten.

Though in the overwhelming minority, Erpelding said he thinks the party will secure hearings for some of the bills it will propose.

“In invasive species and cybersecurity, there seems to be a real will,” said Michelle Stennett, Senate Minority Leader.

Democrats also responded to Otter’s denouncement of the Affordable Care Act and leaving out any mention of Add the Words legislation despite asking the legislature last year for a solution.

“Our plan is to update the human rights act,” said Erpelding. “Our plan is to introduce them, have the conversations, and if the majority party doesn’t want to do that, to ask them for their solutions.”

This year, Democrats are working with two fewer seats than last year’s legislature and a new Republican president and Congress at the national level.


Doyle Beck-related companies main donors to Heileson

By Melissa Davlin


Doyle Beck not only gave  $20,000 to the Idaho Freedom Action Fund; He gave House candidate Chick Heileson $1,000 through his company, BRP Gem Lake Harbor Inc. 

And $1,000 through his other company, Bingham Development Company LLC, listed under the same address as BRP Gem Lake Harbor, Inc.

And $1,000 through his other company, Lincoln Land Co, LLC., also under the same address.

And another $1,000 through his other company, BECO Construction.

And another $1,000 through his other company, Phenix of Idaho, which has the same address as BECO Construction.

And there’s a $1,000 through another company, JBC Construction, INC. The report lists JB Construction, though the address given on the document lines up with JBC Construction, which Doyle Beck lists as one of the companies he’s founded on his LinkedIn page.

And another $1,000 from his wife, Elizabeth Beck. (The address given for Elizabeth Beck is the same one given for Doyle Beck on the Idaho Freedom Action electioneering communication declaration from May 5.)

Why not just give that $7,000 in one donation? It’s illegal. An individual’s donations to an Idaho legislative candidate can’t exceed$1,000 per election cycle.

Both Beck and Heileson are scheduled to appear in court on May 18, the day after the primary election, for misdemeanor charges of campaign finance violations. Those accusations stem from a May 2014 contribution to the Integrity in Government PAC in which Heileson borrowed about half of a $12,000 contribution from Beck, according to the Post Register. 



Some thoughts as we prepare to cover the caucus

In the last year, Idaho Reports has covered five presidential candidate speeches and rallies, including Monday’s Bernie Sanders rally. We’re gearing up to report on Tuesday’s Democratic caucus, and we have a couple predictions. Here are our thoughts.


MELISSA: As we recover from our last candidate rally of the spring (unless Clinton shows up in Boise in the next couple hours) and head into caucus day for Idaho Democrats, I’ve been reflecting on the various campaigns and their presences in Idaho. It was easier to compare and contrast the Republican campaigns — there were four candidates, and two of them visited Idaho — but between the two Democrats left in the race, only Sanders made the trek to our state.

Not only that, but (speaking as a citizen and not a reporter) I got three calls from the Sanders campaign on my personal cell, while no one reached out to me from the Clinton campaign. I chatted with the third Sanders campaign volunteer for a while. He said that he’d been calling Idaho voters for almost two hours, and everyone either said they were Republicans, or they were caucusing for Sanders. At that point, he’d spoken to no Clinton fans. This is all anecdotal, of course, but still struck me as interesting.



Sen. Bernie Sanders enters the Taco Bell Arena for his March 21 rally. (Melissa Davlin/Idaho Public Television)



SETH: I didn’t get any phone calls. I’m feeling slightly left out.

An odd comparison struck me as Sanders walked on to the stage. It reminded me of the anti-Iran deal rally we witnessed in September while in D.C.  Sanders occupied his own space in the Taco Bell arena. He didn’t react to the crowd; The crowd reacted to him. The last time I saw that was Trump walking onto stage in front of the U.S. Capitol; Cruz, the media and the crowd all bent to his movements at the time. Even Cruz yielded to his celebrity, at that point unaware he was Trump’s major competition. The same relationship was true for Sanders in Boise. Sanders demanded of the crowd, and the crowd demanded little of Sanders. While in Idaho, Cruz wanted love from the audience. He wanted them to vote for him. Rubio yearned for redemption in the east Idaho dessert, the stomping ground of one of his biggest donors, Frank Vandersloot. On Monday, Sanders put expectations on the crowd and they loved it. Clinton has never come to Idaho, and I’ve never been in front of her, so I can’t speak to her relationship with a crowd. The best corollary for Sanders in this campaign is Trump. Neither candidates apologize. They don’t pander. They don’t worry about nuance, and the audience respects it.


MELISSA: And as the national media has noted extensively, both pride themselves on distancing themselves from super PACs and big-money donors. We heard that message again and again from Sanders on campaign money, in what sounds like the same stump speech he’s been giving for a while. It’s interesting that you bring up both the candidates’ unapologetic tones. One of the biggest cheers Sanders got was for his sharp critique of social conservatism and what he called hypocrisy for Republicans’ attacks on gay marriage and abortion rights. As he began his comments, he said “I know this isn’t a popular topic in conservative Idaho but I’m going to say it anyway…” That in-your-face, take-it-or-leave-it, to-hell-with-popular-opinion bravado is part of what makes Trump so attractive to voters, too. I’m sure Sanders would be thrilled with the comparison, as he spent part of his speech attacking the Republican front-runner.


SETH: The prelude to his attacks on Trump also spoke to the similarities between the two candidates. Sanders said “I’m not going to make attacks like some in the campaign,” but he spent a significant amount of time discussing marginalized groups his campaign does listen to — American Indians, women, those living in Flint, Michigan, and those living in poverty — bookending that discussion with jabs at the media and the establishment for not always hearing these concerns. He then attacked Clinton for a speech she reportedly gave to Wall Street donors. Sanders claimed she received $275,000 for talking to the very Wall Street executives he blamed for destroying the economy and creating income inequality. Then he proceeded to attack Trump. All these claims may be completely legitimate, that Trump is dividing the country and playing to our worst impulses, that Clinton is too cozy with Wall Street, and that we as media are not holding up our bargain as the fourth estate. I’m not making judgement. It was simply the introduction to the attacks that made me draw the comparisons.


MELISSA: I counted three separate attacks on the media in his speech. Side note: He made those attacks in front of the largest media turnout for any of the presidential candidate visits in Idaho this election cycle. (The Trump/Cruz anti-Iran deal rally we covered in September drew more press, but that was in DC.) There were more than twice as many reporters and photogs at this rally than Cruz and Rubio’s Boise rallies combined. Despite that, Sanders accused the media of not covering income inequality, but nearly every journalist I knew at that rally has done extensive reporting on poverty and its effects on Idahoans. (I know I might come off as defensive, but when Sanders claims to thousands of cheering supporters that journalists are ignoring something we’ve all reported on…  A girl’s gotta defend herself and her colleagues.) And, as Bill Dentzer and Luke Ramseth pointed out, Sanders declined to speak to local reporters while in Idaho. That said, I don’t think that will hurt him with caucus-goers.


SETH: Idaho is a unique place for Democrats. The state is geographically big. Community is largely based on religious groups that have been embraced by the Republican party, and Democrats are significant minority. Being a Democrat outside of Boise, Sun Valley, Moscow and some parts of Pocatello can be ideologically lonely. To feel alone in the wilderness and feel like the deck is stacked against you wouldn’t be conspiratorial, but rational. For Idaho Democrats, being a member of the establishment or the majority is a foreign concept. For the last two decades, Clinton has been the establishment, and in 2008, Idaho wasn’t a friendly to her. Obama took Idaho by force. He visited Boise as an outsider, and Boise treated him like a rock star. He rode the momentum to an overwhelming victory in the Democratic caucus, winning by more 18 points. Clinton seems to be making the same mistake in Idaho this time. In a state where Democrats are starved for like-minded peers, the mere presence of a Democratic candidate who takes the time to visit has huge impact.

This year, Sanders is following in Obama’s footsteps, and being an outsider himself who has been a minority even in his own party has a natural empathetic connection with Idaho’s disenfranchised minority. His appearances may have been all he needed to win the day, showing that he cared and that he was like them. Sanders did well in demographically similar Western counties. Look to the Idaho Reports bellwether of Elko County, Nevada. Sanders visited Elko on Feb. 19, and a day later, he won that county by more 13 points. A month later in Idaho, Sanders has the demographics on his side and he’s made the right moves. If I had to make a prediction I would say Idaho will be Feeling the Bern tonight.  


MELISSA: Right. As we noted in our March 11 show, even though Clinton took the state of Nevada in the Feb. 20 Democratic caucus, Sanders won in Elko County. In recent election cycles, north Nevada is a good indicator of how Idaho votes. Elko County had almost identical results to south central Idaho counties in 2012 and 2008, and Elko County’s Republican caucus results were also pretty close to Idaho’s. When we visited the Elko County caucus in February, we saw a slight majority of participants favor Sanders, but still a solid base of support for Clinton. So I’m with you, Seth. I think Sanders is going to do well in Idaho tonight, though it will be close.

Of course, we’ve been wrong before — like in our prediction that Marco Rubio would perform well in Idaho. (But we’ve also been pretty darn right in other respects, like calling the Cruz victory in Idaho half an hour before national media called it. You win some, you lose some.) Idaho Reports will be at tonight’s Ada County caucus. Follow along on Twitter (@davlinnews and @IdahoReports), and be sure to watch Friday’s show for more.



Can’t get enough Labrador, Bill, Betsy or Jim? We got you covered.

Idaho Reports traveled all the way to Washington you didn’t think we’d leave half the interview on the cutting room floor? Aaron Kunz talks federal lands, immigration and more in this extended interview with the Congressman Labrador.

The United States Speaker race hijacked the week, but some things happened back here in Idaho. The Idaho Statesman’s Bill Dentzer joins pundits Betsy Russell of the Spokesman-Review and Dr. Jim Weatherby to discuss the Tax Working Group and Commerce Director Doug Sayer’s recent comments.


Uncertainty in the Wood River Valley

Kevin Harrison and Aaron Kunz

Uncertainty looms over the Wood River Valley as the important water management process plays out in central Idaho. At stake is how much water will be available for crop irrigation, ranching, and other business interests. These water call documents, for the Big Wood River Water Users Association, the Little Wood River Water Users Association, and the Idaho Department of Water Resources paint the legal framework for how they’ll move forward. They can be found here and here.

Idaho uses the “prior appropriation” model, also known as “first in time – is first in right.” The state’s oldest water users took water directly out of rivers, streams and lakes. They are known as surface water users. Decades later we learned how to use pumps to coax water out of underground sources such as aquifers like the giant Snake River Plain Aquifer that stretches from St. Anthony to Twin Falls. Those users are known as groundwater users and because they came after surface water users, a lot of them have junior water rights.

That became a big issue when the courts recognized that surface water and groundwater are linked. Take too much water out of the aquifer, and surface water is used to recharge the aquifer. Take too much surface water and groundwater isn’t recharged. None of this is a problem when water is plentiful, but a huge problem when water is scarce like it has been this year.

The biggest state water management legal case, known as the Snake River Basin Adjudication, has helped set the stage for the situation in the Wood River Valley, where water management is still being developed.

The Wood River Valley Groundwater-Flow Model, a joint project between the IDWR and the United States Geologic Survey, is scheduled for completion early next year. The model is meant to further our understanding of the relation between surface and groundwater in the Wood River Valley. It will also contribute to long-term planning, resource management, and conjunctive administration.

The IDWR has published a project summary that explains why the model is needed. The kick-off presentation from the initial meeting adds additional information. There are also project updates available from both the IDWR and the USGS, both from January 2014. The recent water calls for the Wood River Valley have highlighted the significance this model will play in future administration and litigation. A recent Capital Press story quotes Matt Weaver, Deputy Director of the IDWR, as stating that he doesn’t anticipate much progress will be made on these water calls until the flow-model is complete. You can read the story here.

The model may not be finished until 2016, but you’ll be hearing a lot more from the Wood River Valley as people try to prevent a water curtailment.