Today, we take a look back at some of the top stories out of Payette County this year. Find more local stories inside the Year in Review special section in today’s edition of the paper.

County sees big changes in oil and gas drilling in 2019

Oil and gas drilling saw some big changes this year in Payette County, ground zero for such operations in Idaho.

In February, a U.S. District Court judge reaffirmed an August 2018 ruling that the state of Idaho violated the U.S. Constitution by allowing a private corporation, Alta Mesa, to conduct its business without due process, in relation to spacing of wells in a particular area, and integration orders which allowed companies to drill even if landowners objected.

In March, a class action suit was filed against the company by nine local people who leased mineral rights and alleged “willful underpayment or non-payment of royalties.”

And in April, the Idaho Attorney General stated that the company violated state regulatory rules on the use of chemical fracturing. This was done when the company used an acid treatment in the ML Investments No. 1-11 Well without following the proper protocol. 

And later that month, state officials reached a settlement agreement over those violations, which included civil penalties, retroactive application for the well treatment and payment for the application and turning in a report sought by the Department of Lands since July of 2018. In the agreement, the state which initially sought $20,000 in civil penalties settled with Alta Mesa for $8,000 in fees for violation.

On April 22, Oil and Gas officials delivered the news that the state’s only producer operation had recently changed to High Mesa. 

Mick Thomas, Oil and Gas Division administrator at the Idaho Department of Lands and secretary to the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission assured attendees of a town hall in Payette that the operator “technically has changed hands,” from the publicly traded Alta Mesa LLC to the privately owned High Mesa.

In July, it was discovered that activity in Payette County declined considerably and of the 18 wells drilled since operations initially began, 10 had been shut down with five scheduled to be capped. 

And in September, locals found out that Alta Mesa, which was no longer tied to High Mesa, had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, along with six affiliated companies. According to Thomas, the company divested itself of Idaho operations in January.

In November, Thomas told attendees of a town hall that producers were aiming to link two wells together, the Fallon 1-10 Well and the Barlow Well. Work to cap the well did not progress until November, although the operator notified the state of its intent to do so in July.

Post office goes major league

Dozens of local residents on April 12 looked on as dignitaries from the government, United States Postal Service and Major League Baseball honored the late Harmon Killebrew by giving the Payette Post Office a new name: The Harmon Killebrew Post Office.

The hour-long ceremony featured several speakers including Minnesota Twins President and CEO Dave St. Peter, as well as Killebrew’s son, Cam Killebrew.

St. Peter described the way Killebrew conducted himself on and off the field as monumental.

“If there is a Mount Rushmore of sport in Minnesota, Harmon Killebrew is the first guy on the Mount Rushmore,” said St. Peter.

Attendees spanned the generations: A color guard of boy scouts, the Payette High School Band and current Payette High baseball players were present as several elderly longtime residents shared their memories of Killebrew’s time playing for Payette High in the 1950s.

Taking part in the unveiling were Killebrew’s wife, Nita Killebrew, daughter Shawn Killebrew Bair, Idaho Governor Brad Little, and former U.S. Congressman Raul Labrador, who sponsored the congressional act to rename the local post office.

At the end of the ceremony, a new permanent plaque was unveiled bearing the new name of the 82-year old historic structure.

Payette County gets first floral fest

Payette saw its first lavender festival as a blooming success with hundreds of people in attendance. Vendors and consumers alike flocked to the U-Pick Lavender Festival. Festival coordinators, Pam Hemenway and her daughter, Cari Tschirgi, organized the event which had been in the planning stage since 2016.

Hemenway is the owner and operator of Lavender Gardens of Payette, a small lavender-growing operation, which put on the first-time event. She raised four different varieties of lavender, which included: Melissa, Grosso, Edelweiss and Hidcote.

The day of the festival saw 10 vendors and hundreds of people turn out to pick lavender and enjoy refreshments including: lemonade, iced tea, shortbread cookies, fudge and scones — all made with fresh lavender.

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