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Archive for May, 2010

One more Community Roots thing before the official-start-of-summer weekend. Our favorite Local Food Share and Roots CSA worker bee Korrine Kreilkamp reports back to our friends at DOMA Coffee that: “DOMA coffee bean chaff is being utilized at the Shared Harvest Community Garden compost and also at the Roots CSA compost. Sweet!!!!”

Indeed, KEA’s expanding local food operations are acutely aware of the need for quality organic compost to maintain soil fertility to grow food in our region.  By streaming reliable, local organic waste like DOMA’s into our compost, we’re able to provide reliable, organic fertility to our local soils. Meanwhile, DOMA is happy to be not wasting a waste product.

If only we could grow coffee around here. Then we’d really have something.

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Volunteer organizer extraordinaire Angela Earnhart sends us the following report from this past weekend’s Roots Pursuit:

Thanks to everyone participating in the Roots Pursuit last weekend!!!  This being the first year, I know none of you knew quite what to expect, so kudos for being brave enough to check it out!  Seems like everyone had a great time and we look forward to doing it again next year.  If you have any feedback, feel free to let me know.

THANK-YOUS

As the organizer, finding reliable volunteers was perhaps my biggest challenge, so when these people stepped up, I was soooooooooo grateful!

1)  City Park was staffed by Kootenai Environmental Alliance (KEA), the primary sponsor for this event.

2)  East Tubbs Hill Park was staffed by Coeur d”Alene’s Bike & Pedestrian Committee.

3)  Phippeny Park was staffed by KEA’s Community Roots program and the great people at  The Mary House

Oh, and Terry Harris!  He had the tough job of hanging out at Java for 2 hours, watching all of you walk in, look for him, and shout out some awesome Queen lyrics.  He is the executive director of KEA.

Also, Coeur d’Alene’s Bike To Work Week Committee helped secure all the stuff that participants went home with.  So thanks to Monte, Chris, and Charlie for all those efforts, and for letting our event be part of Bike to Work Week.

Here are the businesses that contributed the good stuff.  Next time you visit them, please let them know what a great time you had at the Roots Pursuit and give them a big thanks:

Java on Sherman

Terra Sports

North Idaho Eye Institute

Doma Coffee Roasting Company

Mountain View Cyclery & Fitness

Two Wheeler Dealer

Bicycle Sales & Service

Coeur d’Alene Cycling & Fitness

Vertical Earth

KEA has more photos of the event on their facebook page. (Scroll down their “wall” just a bit and click on the Roots Pursuit link).

VOLUNTEERS NEEDED

Also, if you completed the Roots Pursuit challenges at Phippeny Park, you now know a bit more about KEA’s Local Food Share program.  We are currently looking for volunteers to help us with our Wednesday night produce distributions.  This begins the first week in July and runs through the end of the summer.  It involves bringing your bike down to the Shared Harvest garden, attaching a cart to it, and heading to the downtown farmer’s market (with a fellow volunteer) to pick up any leftover produce that the farmers wish to donate.  You would then bring it back to the garden, help sort & weigh it, and then bike to some of the soup kitchens/shelters/transitional homes in the immediate area to deliver it.  The entire process starts around 6:30 and takes between 1-2 hours, depending on how much food there is.  It’s low-key and kind of fun, and it’s always rewarding to be delivering such fresh, beautiful, local food to people and places who may normally not be able to afford it. 

 If this sounds like something you would like to participate in, or if you just want more information, please let us know. 

THANKS AGAIN to all our participants, volunteers, sponsors — the Roots Pursuit was such a great time.

UPDATE: The Coeur d’Alene Ped / Bike blog has more fun pictures.

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As expected, the EPA approved the Washington Department of Ecology’s formulation of a TMDL pollution budget for the Spokane River’s phosphorous-caused dissolved oxygen problems. The reactions from polluters, politicians, and conservationists on both sides of the state line:

EPA endorses the Ecology plan — Spokesman Review

Idaho Senators Crapo and Risch don’t like it — Huckleberries Online

The CDA Press doesn’t like it either — CDA Press

The actual EPA letter approving the plan — US EPA

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Voting on Tuesday

As we’ve said before, we’ve made a pact with the IRS to be utterly and completely non-partisan and therefore we cannot take sides in campaigns for political office.  Still, we’ve been getting a lot of questions about the mechanics of the upcoming primary election, so we thought we’d pass along this information we received today from Conservation Voters for Idaho:

Several races will be decided in Tuesday’s election, so it is important to cast your vote in the Primary Election, as well as the General Election in November.

You can register to vote in person at your polling place by showing a current and valid photo ID or a copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck or government document that shows your name and address.
See www.IdahoVotes.Gov for information.

Please note: Idaho does NOT have party registration, you can vote either the Republican or the Democratic ballot–but not both! You will receive both ballots when voting and if you mark choices on both ballots your vote will be disqualified.

We’re told, by the way, that Idaho’s same-day voter registration law has its origins in the eruption of the Mount St. Helens volcano.  The registration deadline, evidently, came as people were hunkered down in their houses because of the ash, so officials decided to extend the deadline to election day. UPDATE: We don’t think this is true. See comment below.)

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We were alerted Tuesday to a stunning new draft “Emergency Ordinance” scheduled to be introduced by the Kootenai County Commissioners which would allow developers to escape their obligations under existing land use approvals and financial guarantees for up to two years by simply sending a written request.

Emergency legislation? Really?

 The draft bill (pdf)  says that the Board of County Commissioners may consider such a request at any regular meeting. But the legislation does not provide any standard for a decision by the Board, nor does the legislation require any findings of fact or law prior to granting an approval. Indeed, other than a “written request” that contains “reasons why good cause exists (minimally including an economic hardship),” these requests may evidently be granted by the Board on a whim.

 On the substance, the legislation is probably illegal, but it is certainly bad policy. If a prior land use decision has been through the hearing examiner process, the Board approval process, and has been issued a formal binding decision, the Board cannot revisit the prior final decision without similarly formal processes and hearings.  Some of these deadlines and financial guarantees were negotiated in detail and agreed-to by more than just the landowner or developer. It would be patently unfair to unilaterally relieve one party of its obligations. Besides, there is an extraordinary moral hazard here – these landowners and developers chose to take on real estate development risks knowingly and willingly. These are not naïve actors in our local economy.  They are obligated under formal binding public orders, after significant public process. Relieving them of these obligations will encourage similar risk-taking in similar economic environments leading to more bailouts. 

 Moreover, the timing and “emergency” nature of this legislation is highly suspect.  This economic emergency has been ongoing for nearly two years. Why would the nature of the economy get so severe as to require fast-tracked “emergency” legislation to be unveiled exactly one week before a hotly contested primary election? We wonder.

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One of the more frustrating things about the comp plan battle has been fending off the misinformation by the realtors, builders, and business interests. Parroting talking points we’ve been hearing all along, a commenter to our recent posting about the Commissioners’ misguided decision to remove density designations from the current draft plan writes:

This is actually a wonderful and BRAVE decision for these two to make. Terry…you and I don’t always agree but the state law is VERY specific and NO other county has density restrictions in their comp plan in Idaho. It is illegal by statute.

Which is (except for the “don’t always agree” part) unfortunately false. 

Quite a few Idaho counties have ranges of land use densities specified in their comp plans.  Among those with densities specified in their plans would be similarly situated Teton County, and nearby Boundary and Bonner Counties. (Warning: big pdfs. Links to all county comp plans in Idaho can be found here if anyone wants to wade through them…)

Moreover, it is not illegal. On the contrary, state law is specifically designed to allow Counties to regulate land use themselves as they see fit.  We agree (another pdf) with the County’s own legal analysis that specificity in the comp plan, including the densities, would clearly be upheld in a legal challenge.

Keep in mind, though, that it’s not over ’til it’s over. In this instance, the fat lady won’t be singing for months still.  The Commissioners have a number of deliberation meetings scheduled for June to go through the detailed mapping of the (now-meaningless) comp plan designations.  Then, the commissioners have promised a new hearing on all their amendments prior to adoption.  Plus, there may even be new Commissioners by the time the whole thing is completed. 

Truth may still prevail.

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 In their long slow failure of deliberating the draft Comprehensive Plan, the County Commissioners today voted 2-1 in favor of throwing out thousands of hours of hard work by hundreds of citizens in developing a new comp plan that actually meant something. 

File Photo

Over Commissioner Tondee’s strong objection, Commissioners Currie and Piazza voted to remove specific development density ranges for all land use designations in the Plan. In essence, the two Commissioners declined to describe in real and useful terms what levels of development would be appropriate in any area of the county.

 The density decision, of course, is the most important one to make in a comprehensive plan. Today’s deliberation was the last one scheduled before the primary election.

 Recall that KEA and others had advocated strongly for a less-dense rural area. Municipalities on the prairie had advocated for less density as well, so that their annexation and growth could proceed in an orderly non-leapfrog way.

 Now, without a numeric range of allowed densities, landowners, citizen groups, and future developers will need to depend on a narrative description to define appropriate development densities. Moreover, future Commissioners will face unending re-zoning battles and litigation as developers and citizens fight over what each land use category means. Sound familiar?  This is precisely the critical flaw in the current out-of-date comprehensive plan.

 Make no mistake, this is a failure of epic proportions.  Of all the ways to duck the political hot-potato density issue, the two commissioners picked the worst possible solution — choosing to enforce the status quo. And after all this time.

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The American Power Act, the energy / climate bill unveiled yesterdayby Senators Kerry and Lieberman (and not Graham), is a complex 900+ page bill that will attract a lot of discussion in the coming months.  There are pros and cons, of course, but at this point, it is mostly some really difficult legal mumbo-jumbo to wade through. The excellent folks at NRDC posted an outstanding “first reading” summary that we found extremely helpful but also somewhat troubling.  One of the problems NRDC identified is one that is likely to seriously impact us in North Idaho.

As described by NRDC, one of the major flaws in the bill is the “biomass loophole” which gives entirely too much credit and not enough protections when it comes to burning biomaterials for energy.  Those materials around here, of course, are our forests.  Here are NRDC’s (and our) concerns:

Closing the biofuels loophole.  The draft bill creates a large loophole for the carbon emissions from producing and burning biomass, significantly eroding the bill’s carbon pollution reductions. Covered firms are allowed to ignore carbon emissions from burning “renewable biomass” on the assumption that they are completely counterbalanced by carbon uptake when biomass is grown (Sec. 722).  In fact, carbon uptake falls short of combustion emissions for many fuel sources defined as renewable biomass, resulting in net carbon pollution. Not requiring allowances for this carbon pollution gives covered sources an economic incentive to switch to biomass, thus seriously degrading the bill’s stated carbon pollution reductions. Closing the biomass loophole is necessary to ensure the integrity of the bill’s emissions targets.   The bill’s definition of “renewable biomass” also lacks critical environmental sourcing guidelines to protect forests and other sensitive ecosystems (Sec. 700).  The definition provides absolutely no protection for private lands, inviting clearing or converting of sensitive wildlife habitat, old growth forests, and our last remaining native prairies.  Partial protections are included for some federal lands, including roadless areas, and wilderness study areas.  But many of the nation’s public forests remain exposed.  A proper definition would protect areas that are high in biodiversity and that serve as large carbon storehouses, such as mature and old growth forests.  It would also provide strong sustainability guidelines to ensure that bioenergy incentives do not drive increased carbon emissions, deforestation, forest degradation, or loss of wildlife habitat.    

We’ll be watching as the debate progresses, but plugging this loophole needs to be a priority.

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We have a very busy office.  We also have a unique patchwork of staff — in addition to myself and full-time Outreach and Development Director Cathleen O’Connor, we have six part-time staffers at the moment.  That’s right, a KEA world record of SIX part-time staff.

The fact that everyone works on different schedules and different hours on different projects makes it somewhat manageable in the tiny office. But today, purely by conicidence, and only for a few minutes, everyone was here in the office.  Here’s the amazing proof — all the non-Executive Director staff in the same room at the same moment:

KEA Staff on 5/11/2010 (via KEA BlackberryCam) From L to R: Cathleen O'Connor, Amber Crane, Korrine Kreilkamp, Julie Van Middlesworth (seated), interns Jordin Jacobs and Grace Bothfeld, and Forest Watch Coordinator Mike Mihelich

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After 12 long years of talking about it, the Clean Water Act might start having an impact on Spokane River water quality soon. Well, within the next decade or two. The Washington Department of Ecology has finally moved forward on a basic legal requirement to budget pollution loads in the Spokane River.  All this time, nutrient pollution has continued to choke the oxygen out of the Spokane River in Long Lake, and has fed nasty toxic algae blooms in the summers.

The Washington Department of Ecology, the agency responsible for establishing a TMDL (total maximum daily load) under the Clean Water Act, issued a final version in February, calling for a 90% reduction of phosphorous into the river by the year 2020.  The tough TMDL, will require advanced wastewater treatment by all pollution dischargers, but will also require more water conservation measures, and difficult non-point source pollution reductions. There’s a 10-year compliance schedule for polluters, but in some cases it may extend for 20 years.

Idaho dischargers, on the one hand, and the Sierra Club on the other, filed formal protests with the Department. In an internal administrative dispute resolution process which was resolved last week, the Department of Ecology decided to stand by its previous decision.  EPA is expected to issue a final approval soon.

In a recent opinion piece in the Spokesman Review, the Idaho dischargers remain upset about the decision, pointing out some distinct unfairness in the way dischargers are being treated by the TMDL on either side of the border. The Sierra Club also remains disturbed by the decision.

In truth, we are quite sympathetic with both sides.

In a simplified analysis, it is a little unfair.  Idaho’s sewage treatment phosphorous effluent standards under the TMDL are 36 ppb (parts per billion).  Washington’s are allowed at 42 ppb. Also, the TMDL may or may not allow “trading” of pollutants on the Washington side to provide more breathing room in water pollution permits for Spokane dischargers.  We’re not sure that such trading will be appropriate or even possible. Idaho, meanwhile, has no such opportunity because it has no regulatory authority to even attempt it.

Meanwhile, Spokane County has plans for a brand new water treatment plant, which will request to be permitted under the TMDL for future discharge into the already polluted River.  We’re completely unconvinced that the proposed phosphorus budgeting on the Washington side of the border adds up, so we remain skeptical that Spokane County’s sewage plant can ever be legally permitted. 

But some of Idaho’s problems are somewhat of Idaho’s own making.  For years, Idaho has consciously chosen to be one of the few states to abdicate all responsibility for water quality permitting issues to the federal EPA.  And the Idaho state legislature has proven it is entirely unwilling to properly regulate septic systems, which are a major threat to water quality in North Idaho.  With such little leverage for negotiation, Boise is as much of a problem for the Idaho dischargers as Spokane.

Still, regardless of the real or perceived unfairness, there are some basic truths about the Spokane River cleanup that will remain.  Whether Idaho is allocated 36 ppb under the current TMDL or 42 ppb as is allocated to Spokane, expensive upgrades to Idaho sewage treatment plants will be needed. New technology will be necessary to meet the tough new standards either way, and sewer rates will go up.  

We are impressed with, and actually quite proud of our friends and colleagues at the City of Post Falls, the City of Coeur d’Alene, and the Hayden Area Regional Sewer Board for their commitment to clean water and their technical understanding of the difficult issues involved.  We are confident that they will have the skill and technological wherewithal to meet the tough standards, and we will support their efforts to raise awareness, and funds, needed to do so.

Now, though, can we all just get on with it?

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