June 26, 2001 11:00 pm

By Gary Fletcher

Observer Staff Writer

ENTERPRISE It will be at least a month before a salvage company can pull up the rails from Joseph to Elgin.

Meanwhile, a local group is still scrambling to buy the rail line. Owner Idaho Northern and Pacific, which has said the line was worth $7.2 million, had previously rejected offers.

Were very close to making it happen, Ralph Swinehart said about a group trying to buy the line.

A Tuesday night hearing on granting a conditional use permit to salvage the rails was continued to July 31 because the county did not receive the salvage companys $250 fee in time to notify by mail 182 adjoining property owners, county planner Bill Oliver said.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., supports the purchase effort by a group from Union and Wallowa counties, Swinehart said.

Were willing to pay fair market value, Swinehart said. He said it would be a higher offer than one the state Parks and Recreation Department offered earlier.

The legislative process, was Swineharts reply when asked where the money would come from. Earlier, Oregon House Speaker Mark Simmons, R-Elgin, had promised to seek $1 million in state funds toward the purchase. No federal money has been promised, but the State Parks and Recreation Department has about $2.5 million to put into the purchase of the line.

The issue before the planning commission Tuesday was whether to grant a permit to Klamert Railroad Salvage Co. of Silesia, Mont., which bought the salvage rights from Idaho Northern & Pacific for a reported $2 million.

The county asked the salvage company two weeks ago to stop tearing out track at Joseph until a permit could be obtained. Klamert officials complied and provided a revised work plan as required under the Wallowa County/Nez Perce Salmon Habitat Recovery Plan.

Klamerts revision included specifics to protect the Wallowa River, including staging area locations, grading and reseeding to prevent river silting and leaving the right of way open so IN&P can spray noxious weeds.

The notices to adjacent land owners will be sent and draft findings prepared for the July meeting, Oliver said.

Rob Robinson, Klamert vice president, said the rails were in good condition and it would take very little to get them ready for a freight and excursion train should the line be sold. He said he would not stand against something being put together to purchase the railroad.

The time is now to do it. Its been four years. Im on a deadline, he said.

Klamert will have to pay penalties to IN&P if late, Robinson said. The work has to be completed by the end of the year. It could be done in three or four months, he said.