Archive for September, 2010

Two interesting and somewhat interrelated items in today’s Coeur d’Alene Press:  first, that the City of Post Falls is reviewing their procedures for annexations into the City; second, that the City of Coeur d’Alene is reluctant to provide water service outside its municipal boundary in Huetter. The articles signal that both municipalities remain acutely concerned about expanding expensive city services at the periphery of their city limits.

The City of Post Falls is looking to revise annexation procedures so that developers aren’t given preliminary approvals that lead to an expectation of a final approval. Post Falls has adopted a flexible “Smart Code” zoning ordinance which modernizes its approach to development within the city limits, but requires that detailed planning work be done prior to final approval. However, the annexation process requires a preliminary approval from the City Council before developers do the more detailed project planning.  Preliminary approval for an annexation does not necessarily mean final approval for a development, but the current process allows for momentum to build, investments to be made, and expectations to develop.  As city administrator Erik Keck says in the article, the city’s priorities on growth can get lost in the current process: “We want to talk about how to make it a better process, so the council doesn’t feel it has a gun to its head that says, ‘You have to accept this,'” Keck said.

Meanwhile, the City of Coeur d’Alene’s Public Works committee declined a request by the tiny City of Huetter to consider extending water service. Huetter’s water service is below state DEQ standards and needs to be upgraded. As Jim Markely, head of Coeur d’Alene’s water department said, the system can handle the additional customers, but “The biggest point to make is that’s one of our growth tools, not extending outside city lines.” The City’s growth, in other words, should be determined by the City, not outside pressures.

All of this is occurring just as Kootenai County has released “Draft 4” of the Comprehensive Plan, which will be subject to yet another public hearing October 26th.  As seen from today’s articles, the municipalities would clearly prefer less uncontrollable pressure on their borders so that they can expand in a more orderly, affordable and planned way. As we’ve been saying all along, this can be accomplished by a strong County comp plan, which keeps rural areas rural. The County Commissioners will have another (final?) chance to fix what they broke. We hope they restore clear numeric density ranges to the comp plan — to protect rural areas and direct development into the city limits, rather than allowing development to sprawl outward.

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Nearby residents gather to discuss proposed Clagstone Meadows -- photo by KEA BlackberryCam

Yet another monstrous and ill-advised development proposal is approaching approval, this time in nearby Bonner County. The proposal would place more than a thousand housing units on 12,000 acres just north of Kelso Lake and the Kootenai County line.  Called “Clagstone Meadows,” the sudden city is proposed for  Stimson Lumber timberland northwest of Athol.  It is the largest development ever proposed for Bonner County.

At a meeting Tuesday night, nearby residents gathered to discuss the proposal and what impacts it would bring to their rural community. Our regional conservation colleagues from Idaho Conservation League and Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper, Susan Drumheller and Jennifer Ekstrom, helped facilitate the meeting.

Jennifer Ekstrom and Susan Drumheller listen to residents at Clagstone community meeting -- photo by KEA BlackberryCam

Any development of this size will have an enormous impact, but the impacts will be particularly acute on wildlife and nearby waterways including Beaver Lake, Kelso Lake and Hoodoo Creek. Many of the developers’ plans are still vague, with no concrete answers to how traffic will be managed, how fire protection will occur, and how water rights will be transferred and whether those rights will be adequate for the development.

The proposal has preliminary approval from the Bonner County Planning and Zoning Commission which held hearings in July. The Board of County Commissioners in Bonner County are being asked to give their approval to the large conceptual plan, which will then allow the development process to begin in phases.

Leaders of the Clagstone Meadows Resistance Coalition -- photo by KEA BlackberryCam

Written comments are due by October 8th to the Bonner County Commissioners, who will hold a public hearing on the project October 19th and 20th.  Kootenai Environmental Alliance will submit comments and will join with our colleagues and neighbors in support of the newly-organized (and tough-sounding) “Clagstone Meadows Resistance Coalition” and their efforts to block this enormous boondoggle.

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Post PARK(ing) Day, pre Partners for Idaho’s Future meeting in Hailey:

What’s the deal with the CuMo mine in Boise National Forest? — The New York Times has an article, and Idaho Conservation League publishes a piece in the Idaho Statesman.

Rep. Walt Minnick has some tax troubles. Is the IRS giving proper valuations to conservation easements? — Idaho Statesman.

Dangerous Toyota cars, poisonous lead in toys, sickening salmonella in eggs, the horrendous BP oil spill, and a tragic mine disaster. Is our regulatory state broken? And can an obscure government agency fix it? – CPR Blog.

The new LEED-ND tool works to promote smart growth in small towns too. — NRDC Switchboard.

Speaking of small towns, what’s with the big balls of twine? — Design Observer.

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We’re having a great deal of fun today in Coeur d’Alene. It’s our first-ever PARK(ing) Day. Thank you to our volunteers, our suppliers, our sponsors, our contributors, our artists. And a secret special thank you goes to the City of Coeur d’Alene for being such a good sport about it. We’re posting pictures all day over at the facebook page.

PARK(ing) Day at Art Spirit Gallery - photo by KEA BlackberryCam

But what exactly is the point of all this? Basically, that inexpensive parking is not really all that inexpensive. There are significant costs throughout our car culture, but today we focus particularly on costs associated with our insistence on being able to park our cars wherever we want.

From a purely environmental perspective, vast expanses of asphalt are problematic for a number of reasons, but most critically problematic because of stormwater runoff. Rather than water slowly infiltrating back into the soils, stormwater runs off into our streams and rivers and lakes, quickly, warmly, and filled with pollutants.

Artificially inexpensive parking is indirectly problematic because it encourages us to use our cars in ways that are inefficient and unnecessary. We’ll drive further and more often because the leapfrog of parking lots makes walking less efficient, and because even well-designed mass transit can’t compete.

PARK(ing) Day at Java on Sherman - photo by KEA BlackberryCam

But collectively we’re wasting a lot of money. Bottom line numbers from the well-researched book “The High Cost of Free Parking” indicate that the “free parking subsidy” cost Americans a collective $127 billion in 2002.  Most free parking spaces have land values worth far more than the cars parked on them.  In Coeur d’Alene, this is particularly acute along the valuable lakefront.

Not everyone is onboard. When one of our PARK(ing) Day locations was setting up this morning, a detractor driving a huge truck commented, “I own a business down here, where am I supposed to park?” just before pulling out of his free on-street parking spot. Notwithstanding a business model that has the owner taking up his customers’ parking, this is a frequent complaint among those accustomed to the parking subsidy.

What we’re saying today is that we need to rethink our parking. And we’re pleased to be part of a global effort to do so.

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As someone who had to pay more than $20 to park a car for a day in downtown Baltimore, I walked to work. North Idaho, however, is at the exact opposite end of the parking spectrum with acres and acres of inexpensive parking.

In some instances, parking is located on extremely valuable land. Visitors come from around the country and around the world to enjoy the natural beauty of our area, but there’s a huge expanse of parking separating the City of Coeur d’Alene’s downtown core from its namesake Lake. At Independence Point, what would otherwise be a world-class gateway to the City, visitors are treated to yet another parking lot.

So this Friday in Coeur d’Alene, KEA is joining with artists, activists and citizens around the globe will temporarily transform parking spaces into public parks and other social spaces, as part of an annual event called PARK(ing) Day.” In a press release, the PARK(ing) Day founders describe it:

Originally invented in 2005 by Rebar, a San Francisco-based art and design studio, PARK(ing) Day challenges people to rethink the way streets are used and reinforces the need for broad-based changes to urban infrastructure. “In urban centers around the world, inexpensive curbside parking results in increased traffic, wasted fuel and more pollution,” says Rebar’s Matthew Passmore. “The strategies that generated these conditions are not sustainable, nor do they promote a healthy, vibrant human habitat. PARK(ing) Day is about re-imagining the possibilities of the urban landscape.”

Since 2005, the PARK(ing) Day project has blossomed into a worldwide grassroots movement: PARK(ing) Day 2009 included more than 700 installations in more than 140 cities in 21 countries on six continents. This year, the project continues to expand to urban centers across the globe, including the first-ever PARK installation in Tehran, Iran. “Urban inhabitants worldwide recognize the need for new approaches to making the urban landscape,” says Rebar’s John Bela. “PARK(ing) Day demonstrates that even temporary or interim spatial reprogramming can improve the character of the city.”

PARK(ing) Day is a grassroots, “open-source” invention built by independent groups around the globe who adapt the project to champion creative, social or political causes that are relevant to their local urban conditions.

We understand that Kootenai Environmental Alliance, and our fellow instigators around town, will be the only participants from Idaho in this year’s global event. Look for us on Friday, September 17.  Better yet, come join use and help us re-imagine parking lot pavement in North Idaho.

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We were a little taken aback this week, with the done-deal announcement that the Idaho Department of Lands and Kootenai County have entered an agreement that the County will now be responsible for the removal of hazardous pilings and booms in the Spokane River and Coeur d’Alene Lake.  The agreement, signed without public input, and at an August 31 meeting of the County Commissioners without any evidence of public notice, seems designed to undercut the efforts by the Osprey Association to preserve the booms and pilings in Cougar Bay.

We understand that the plans to remove pilings from the Spokane River have been in the works for quite some time. However, the inclusion of Coeur d’Alene Lake in this agreement appears to be a new development. Indeed, we’ve been unable to determine how and when this decision by the Commissioners got made.

The agreement was signed by Rick Currie for the County Commissioners on August 31, and it was signed by Mike Denney from the Department of Lands on August 17. Recall that IDL rejected the Osprey Association application at the end of July, and sent its explanatory letter to attorney Scott Reed dated August 12 with no mention of any negotiations with the County.

The agreement itself is broad, vague, and as typical in Idaho, unfunded. The stated purpose of the agreement is “to allow the County to remove pilings and booms they deem hazardous to navigation in the Spokane River and Lake Coeur d’Alene and to enhance public education about navigation.”  Yet the agreement is explicit that “this agreement does not obligate either party to expend funds.”

According to the oddly-worded agreement, the county shall, among other things, “Remove the pilings they deem appropriate at their expense. Appropriateness shall be based on feasibility as well as economic viability.”

Meanwhile, the State is obligated only to “assist the county in locating owners of pilings to be removed” and to provide information to the County to create informational brochures about piling removal.

It appears that with this agreement, the Idaho Department of Lands has abdicated its responsibility for Cougar Bay booms and pilings to the County, which has neither the expertise nor process to make such decisions. More critically, the path forward for the Osprey Association is less clear. Now, with the County as the contractual “appropriateness” decision-maker for pilings and booms in the Lake, renewal of its application to IDL to preserve the pilings will likely face another layer of bureaucratic nay-saying.

KEA has made a Public Records Act request to the County for documents and correspondence relating to this agreement and to the Cougar Bay pilings, and we hope to learn more about how this decision was reached. Regardless, it appears that the Kootenai County Commissioners are now key to the future of Cougar Bay.

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After a couple of days in Shoshone County talking about forest projects, we were pleased upon returning to the office to notice that, as promised, the US Forest Service has finally posted long-overdue monitoring reports for the years 2007, 2008, and 2009. (Scroll down to download a big pdf file under “Forest Plan Monitoring and Evaluation”)

Recall that KEA sent a letter earlier in the summer calling for the reports to be published. The Forest Service responded with a promise that the reports would be finalized and published by August 31st. We’re very happy to announce they’ve kept their promise. So now, we look forward to our own detailed review of the charts, graphs, facts and figures that constitute a snapshot look at the region’s forest resources. We’ll let you know our thoughts on the report once we have some time to digest it.

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