Archive for June, 2010

Although the growing season has barely begun, we were pleased to see that our brand new Roots CSA has already gained some level of success. We’re big fans of one of our CSA’s big fans, and we were pleased to see that the nice folks at ilovecda.com were able to take some early harvest spinach and turn it into something that looks absolutely scrumptious. Check out the recipe here.

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We continue to watch in horror as the gulf oil spill expands and consumes beaches, marshland, birds, fish, and other wildlife. Even when the spill finally stops, the gulf region is facing years and years of cleanup.

Those of us in North Idaho can relate as well as anyone south of Prince William Sound, Alaska.  Environmentally, the oil mess in the gulf is not unlike the mining mess in the Coeur d’Alene basin. Contamination spread for miles by natural currents of water. Brought on, in no small part, by under-regulated industrial operations.

Of course, the contamination of our region was decades in the making and decades ago. The cleanup here will continue for decades. Currently the EPA is considering an update to the Superfund “Record of Decision” for the upper Coeur d’Alene basin, which is intended to guide cleanup plans for the next 50 to 90 years.  (That’s right – another 50 to 90 years of cleanup in the upper basin. Meanwhile, we try to remain hopeful that the lower basin will get some attention prior to the year 2060. )  Anne Dailey, from the EPA’s office in Seattle will join us this Thursday, noon, at the Iron Horse to discuss the “ROD Amendment,” as it is called.

Our thoughts go out to our fellow Americans along the gulf of Mexico. Welcome to our world.

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In a stunning decision, the Idaho Department of Lands has approved a proposal by Kootenai County Parks and Waterways to locate moorage buoys for motorized boats in Cougar Bay.  We are reviewing the decision here at KEA, but on initial reading, we are deeply concerned.

The IDL decision reduced the number of moorage buoys from the 12 in the original proposal to three. The IDL decision also sets conditions on the permit such that there will be a limit to the number of boats per buoy in order to prevent movement of the anchor. IDL expressed continued support for a no wake zone in the Bay, but the IDL decision did not explicitly approve the 15 marker buoys in the proposal.

On one hand, the decision states that “if the usage of the mooring buoys results in conflicts with the conservation or non-motorized use of Cougar Bay, then this permit may be subject to revocation.” But on the other, the decision also states that “If these mooring buoys appear to be compatible with other uses of Cougar Bay, then the Applicant may apply for more in the future.”

The IDL decision notes that the proposal will require removal of pilings in the permit area, and emphasized that piling removal was not part of this particular decision. Such removal would require a much more detailed evaluation including consideration of the contaminated lakebed sediments. Ominously, the permit sets a three-year time limit for the piling removal, or else the moorage permit will expire.

We are saddened by this decision, and we are likely to have more on this soon.  Our first thought, though, we’d urge Kootenai County Parks and Waterways to rethink their proposal. There is likely to be a more comprehensive solution to the piling problem and Bay protection. Plopping three party buoys in quiet Cougar Bay is not a positive contribution.

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Disappointingly bringing an end to a long process, lame-duck Commissioners Rick Currie and Rich Piazza outvoted Commissioner Todd Tondee today to approve a site-disturbance permit for a roadway through a frequently flooded, contaminated property along the Coeur d’Alene River near Medimont. The proposal, from developer / realtor John Beutler, would provide new access to an unbuilt subdivision along the River.

 Community members and environmental interests (including KEA) opposed the project as unnecessary in purpose and problematic in its design. More to the point, the County simply shouldn’t be permitting permanent roads in an area which floods frequently in non-extraordinary high-water events. Especially when such flooding brings contamination each and every time.

 Today’s final public hearing was purportedly to review information from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers which had previously denied the project. However, the Corps had also given indications that it had done so “without prejudice” and that the developer could re-apply for approvals.  In an email released by the County, the Corps of Engineers declined to attend the County’s hearing.

 Commissioner Tondee recommended that the permit be denied as a hearing examiner had recommended. Tondee said that there was no objective information in the file regarding whether the road would contribute to additional flood damage, whether it would divert flood waters, or whether it would affect flood storage capacity. Tondee also noted that the frequent flooding would contaminate and re-contaminate the properties with toxic sediments flowing from the Silver Valley, and that such contamination would be a threat to the public’s safety.

 Commissioner Piazza voted to approve the road, and cited to a pre-decisional report from the Corps of Engineers that seemed to address some of the concerns. But that report was not available to Director Clark when he was making the decision. Moreover, the report was not part of any formal decision issued by the Corps, but a preliminary investigation.

 Commissioner Currie broke the tie, calling the proposal “an opportunity.” Currie said that he was aware of the potential for contamination issue and would agree to approval under a condition that the applicant would agree to a deed restriction which would require all future property owners to remediate their properties within two years of a flood event causing contamination. If property owners don’t comply, then the County could perform the cleanup and send a bill to the property owners.  Currie noted that the property had been subdivided long ago and that the properties could be developed “by barge, if they had to,” so the road, he speculated, could be the less intrusive option.

 It isn’t immediately clear what the “deed restrictions” would actually say, and it isn’t immediately clear whether such restrictions apply to the road alone or all the subdivision properties, and it isn’t at all clear whether such a restriction could even be enforced.

 In terms of what county commissioners are supposed to do in land use decision-making, this is one of the worst I’ve seen. This is a road that will be frequently underwater, and providing access to properties that are contaminated and will be re-contaminated over and over and over again.  

 The decision sets a terrible procedurally as well. The planning director made a decision with the information he had available to him. But when the applicant appealed to the Board of County Commissioners, they supplied pages and pages of new information. Now, there is lessened motivation for a developer to give a complete application to the Planning Department. Any facts and supporting documentation can simply wait until an appeal before the Board is taken.

 Again, another poor decision by this Board underscores the need for better and more protective ordinances, new hearing procedures, and decision-makers with a more appropriate view of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public they represent.

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KEA Board member Wes Hanson provides this background piece on the extraordinary Cougar Bay:

Cougar Bay and its surrounding shoreline are dear to many people living here.  Situated one mile from Coeur d’Alene, Cougar Bay is the last undeveloped shallow bay at Lake Coeur d’Alene’s northern end.  It contains rich wildlife habitats in its water, wetland, and uplands.  Realizing Cougar Bay is a threatened and irreplaceable natural resource, many local people have worked hard to preserve it from development and other disruptive intrusions.

As a result, Cougar Bay’s shoreline is mostly preserved in its natural state, but forces are pushing to open up the bay to more intensive uses.  Here is how that preservation came about.

In 1992 a developer proposed building a subdivision along Cougar Bay’s northern shore.  Huge opposition to it arose, leading to the formation of the Friends of Cougar Bay.  During that summer, the Friends attended hearings and gathered more than 3,000 signatures calling on the county commissioners to turn down this proposal and work to preserve Cougar Bay as a wildlife sanctuary.  Under extreme pressure, the developer eventually sold his shoreline strip to The Nature Conservancy which then sold it to the Bureau of Land Management.  That land, which you as United States citizens own, is where people hunt each fall and launch their canoes and kayaks into Cougar Bay.

Continuing its commitment to preserve Cougar Bay, The Nature Conservancy purchased more land at the head of the bay, where its preserve and hiking trails are located.

After the developer sold the his northern strip of land, he purchased a farm on Cougar Bay’s western hillside.  He proposed building an intensive 92-house subdivision on it.  A new opposition group, the Rural Kootenai Organization (RKO) formed and challenged his project.  For nine years, RKO contested the applicant’s plan before the county commissioners, state agencies, and the courts.  In 2001 the developer, RKO, and the county negotiated an agreement to create a 35-acre conservation easement protecting land next to Cougar Bay in exchange for building a 77-house subdivision.  The Inland Northwest Land Trust now oversees that conservation easement.

In 2003, the Bureau of Land Management purchased a quarter section of land lying below and to the south of Cougar Bay from John Pointner.  Driving along US 95 from Coeur d’Alene and looking south across the bay, you will see a wide, wooded, undeveloped hillside.  This is land you permanently own through BLM’s purchase.

If you flew over Cougar Bay from downtown Coeur d’Alene, you would see how all these acquisitions now preserve Cougar Bay’s shoreline.  The northern shore is protected by the 1300 foot long strip purchased by the Bureau of Land Management in the early 1990s. To the west, the conservation easement monitored by the Inland Northwest Land Trust protects Cougar Bay’s upland habitat. Further west and south of US 95, The Nature Consevancy’s acreage preserves Cougar Bay’s rich wetland and hillside. South of Cougar Bay, the Bureau of Land Management owns nearly the entire shoreline and hillside.  Eventually this, in combination with The Nature Conservancy land next to it, will hold public hiking trails and other low-impact facilities.

All of this has been accomplished by many people and organizations during the past eighteen years.  They had and have a vision for Cougar Bay’s future, much as people did who worked to preserve Tubbs Hill as a local natural resource.  Simply put their vision is that Cougar Bay will be a place where people will have easy access to nature and nature is left largely undisturbed. Completing this vision will enrich this community and connect young people to the natural world.

Lately, though, new threats to achieving this vision have surfaced.  One threat involves removing log storage pilings and booms from the mouth of Cougar Bay.  Currently, they deter high-speed boats and personal watercrafts from entering Cougar Bay.  Another proposed intrusion is to install moored overnight docking facilities at the bay’s entrance.  A third proposal that occasionally emerges is to dredge the bay, removing its plants and deepening it.  Finally, proposals to haul and store docks and other equipment in Cougar Bay have been made and heard by the Idaho Department of Lands.  This agency regulates lakebeds and issues surface water leases.

If adopted, these proposals would permanently degrade Cougar Bay, this community’s most precious resource.  Cougar Bay should not be sacrificed so a few people can zip across the bay or store docks and other floating structures on its water.  Many people have worked diligently and hard to preserve Cougar Bay’s wetlands and hillsides so this community has natural sanctuary available for low-impact uses, wildlife, and its children.

It is now time for the general public to give a lasting gift to this and future generations by insisting that Cougar Bay’s publicly owned surface water is used in ways that are compatible with the natural values already preserved on its surrounding shores.  At the beginning of the campaign to preserve Cougar Bay, a friend of mine told me that preserving it would later be seen as an act of genius.  This is true more than ever, and you as citizens of this place have your part to play in completing this magnificent effort.

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Some fascinating and angry readings coming out of the BP disaster in the Gulf:

What would Rand Paul do? Would a private property libertarian have much help for Louisianans in oil spill cleanup? Are they really “our” wetlands? – Nola.com (Also, some Rand Paul views on the environment – Legal Planet)

Parsing the PR: what does BP mean when it says it will pay for “cleanup” and “legitimate claims” — CPR Blog

Bad news for BP is bad news for the Nature Conservancy too — Washington Post

This simplistic cost-benefit approach doesn’t add up if you ask me, but see what you think about Richard Posner’s reasoning on why we don’t plan for worst case scenarios — Washington Post

Indeed, “government on demand” just plain doesn’t work — CPR Blog

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We’re doing some planning and evaluation and we’d appreciate your comments. Take a few minutes and give us some input. Here’s a link to an anonymous and confidential surveymonkey survey to help our navel-gazing efforts. (Some of you may have taken a similar survey lately, and there’s no need to take this one again.)  Thanks.

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