FEE FI FO FUM: We warned you it was coming--and last Friday, the Forest Service made the official announcement that it would start charging a $5 fee for every vehicle that enters its Sabino Canyon parking lot beginning next month.

The new charge is part of the Forest Service's fee demonstration program. It joins the $5 fee Smokey now charges to drive up Mount Lemmon. Supposedly, the new fee will raise a half-million bucks a year, but we have our doubts about that figure. We'd hate to find out, for example, that the fee demonstration program has cost a lot more than Smokey originally planned.

Folks who walk or bike into Sabino--which account for roughly 3 percent of its annual visitors--are off the hook, as Forest Service officials were bright enough to realize that chasing after them would cost more than it was worth. Frequent visitors can purchase annual passes for $20 or weekly passes for $10. And yes, the money will stay here to help pay for improvements--after administrative and implementation costs are taken off the top.

But frankly, as long as mines, oil companies, ranchers and logging operations enjoy public subsidies to extract our natural resources, we don't think average citizens ought to get dinged just because they happen to enjoy the outdoors.

If you ask us, the fee demonstration program calls for a demonstration of pissed-off citizens who aren't going to pay to use their own land. Call your congressman and tell him you don't appreciate the program--and when it comes up for renewal later this year, tell 'em to dump it.

GAME FACE-OFF: It may be a new Kumbaya Legislature, but it's still business as usual with the Arizona Game and Fish Commission, the five-member body that oversees the state Game and Fish Department.

Gov. Jane Dee Hull is sticking by her appointment of rancher Sue Chilton to the commission. Hull picked Chilton after another one of her appointees, Bill Berlat, was unable to secure confirmation from the Arizona Senate. Berlat is a braying jackass who doesn't disguise his contempt for the environmental community; His exploits were chronicled in these pages by correspondent Tim Vanderpool. During one interview, Berlat told Vanderpool he could "write the shit you want for that rag."

Chilton, it appears, wouldn't be much better on the commission, from an environmental policy perspective. She's facing tough opposition by environmental groups, who fear that Chilton is more concerned about livestock than wildlife.

Chilton is a partner with her husband in the Chilton Ranch and Cattle Company, much of which lies in the Coronado National Forest. When state Game and Fish officials conducted a routine assessment of her Arivaca-area ranch property, they determined the land was overstocked and that the Chiltons weren't doing diddly to protect an endangered species of quail. But then, according to statements filed with the Game and Fish Department, she's generally contemptuous of the Endangered Species Act, as well as skeptical that riparian areas are threatened.

Chilton is also on the record calling for a reduction in elk and mountain lions in Arizona--which, of course, makes the land safe for more cattle.

Now Hull wants to put Chilton in charge of the Game and Fish Department. Gee, wonder if that would frighten state biologists into backing off their criticism of Chilton's misuse of public lands? Sounds like a stinky conflict of interest to us. Surely Hull could find someone in Arizona who would actually advocate for sound wildlife policy.

SHOCKED AND APPALLED: What kind of moron would possibly approve Public Service Company of New Mexico's plan to run a 300-mile-long power line through the Tucson Wildlife Corridor? This has to be one of the most wretched ideas we've ever heard.

As if all the stick-and-stucco dumps developers regularly shit out isn't enough, the New Mexico company wants to erect 120-foot electrical towers near Tucson Mountain Park and Saguaro National Park East. This is not an improvement on the landscape.

Surely the company could run its lines down I-10, which is already lined with cruddy hotels, gas stations and that bizarre proto-amusement park. It might cost a little more, but we're of the opinion that unspoiled views are worth more than Public Service's profit line.

DEBT SERVICE: The District 13 state Senate race was a squeaker, with Democrat Andy Nichols edging out Republican Kathleen Dunbar by roughly 2,000 votes.

Turns out that Nichols spent a lot of money in his race. Late last month, his campaign treasurer, Reuben Merideth, sent a letter hitting up supporters and lobbyists for additional contributions. Merideth revealed that the campaign had spent almost $90,000, while Nichols had raised only $67,000, meaning he'd had to loan the campaign more than $22,000.

Merideth said every cent was necessary. "Any less," he wrote, "and the margin of victory might easily have been reversed."

If that's true, it's a good thing Nichols didn't run under the state's new publicly funded campaign program. Even with matching funds, he would have been capped out at $45,000 for the general election--half the amount he eventually spent.

We hear Republican Ed Poelstra, who pulled off an upset in District 14, also finished about 10K in debt.

OVER-INFLATED APPRAISAL: Last week, the dailies were sucking up the story on the Tucson Realty's residential division sale to Long Realty. But our real estate spies tell us that the deal ain't all that great. First, despite what pretty-boy Hank Amos, Tucson Realty's alleged boss, may brag about to pals around town, the price was not that high. (Although maybe now he'll be able to afford a decent haircut.) Moreover, his remaining commercial division is not much. And for Long, the acquisition is a moving target. All those Tucson Realty agents may not be signing up after all. In fact, many have flooded other real estate firms with calls.

DAYDREAM: Ann Day offers proof why Pima County should have a charter and get out from under its parent, the Arizona Legislature. Fresh out of her long career in the state Senate and into her new job on the Board of Supervisors, Day, a Republican, demonstrated her ignorance last week when her colleagues--also demonstrating ignorance--voted to try to take away the county's bank servicing contract from Bank of America. The servicing contract will now be put out to bid so Democrat Raúl Grijalva can try to give it to a friend at another bank. Never mind that County Treasurer Beth Ford, a Republican who is the first new treasurer in 32 years, along with County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry and county legal advisers, cautioned against the move. Day appeared to be listening intently and then asked if the contract would allow Ford to have influence on investments.

Hey, Ann, this isn't one of the county's investment pools. It is only the checking account. No investments to worry about with this account.

It also was amusing listening to Grijalva complain about community investment by the bank. It's the same issue he raised in previous terms. He and other supervisors sure didn't seem interested in the BofA's record of community investment when the bank bailed the county out of a fiscal jam two years ago with a whopping $30 million line of credit. Supervisors maxed it out almost immediately. For those of you reading at home, certainly not the supervisors, that's on Page 51 of the county's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 1999.

DIGGING FOR DOLLARS: U.S. Senator John McCain has said on many occasions: If you want to know something about a politician, find out who contributes to his campaign.

Such is the case with our intrepid State Mine Inspector Doug Martin, who graciously and legally accepts campaign funds from the people he regulates. In this crazy system of ours, Martin is sworn to protect the health and safety of miners, yet he is allowed to accept campaign funds from mining political action committees, mine owners, mine managers and even mine safety officials. Would a reasonable person find this to be a conflict? Of course. Does Martin? Apparently not.

In his pre-primary election report for June 1 thru August 19, 1998, Martin shows he received campaign funds from five PACs, including $250 from Phelps Dodge PAC and a $500 donation from Cyprus Employees for Excellence in AZ Gov. Other donations came from Carlotta Mining manager Robert Walish and Phelps Dodge officials Baker Olmstead and Harry Conger.

Again, perfectly legal.

Martin even relieved campaign contributions from his staff, including mine inspectors Bill Hawes, Greg Becker, Larry Nelson, Manuel Valenzuela and consultant George Davis. Legal? Perfectly.

Currently Martin has four deputy mine inspectors on the state clock. How does it affect the deputies when they are inspecting mines where the mine managers are known contributors to their employer?

A miner injured in a rock fall at Grupo Mexico's Asarco Mission Mine last year told the press no one bothered to report unsafe conditions to the State Mine Inspector because they all thought the state office was more interested in helping the company. Miner José Villanueva was killed in the same rock fall almost a year to the week. The injured miner told Arizona Republic reporters the miners all believed that if a state inspector cracked down on Asarco because of a miner's complaint, "he would be punished."

Gee. What a concept.

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