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Archive for November, 2010

You’re going to need to shovel yourselves out by Thursday. Our longtime friend and supporter Peter Grubb of ROW Adventures will be at the Iron Horse at noon to talk about the Highway 12 megaloads controversy.

Peter is one of three courageous plaintiffs in the legal battle to force Idaho Department of Transportation to abide by its own rules and allow public input before permitting “overlegal” truck loads up the Lochsa River corridor.

Imperial Oil SHT Load Module. Seriously. That huge thing goes on a truck. (courtesy fightinggoliath.org)

Four super huge truck loads (“SHT loads” as coined by our friends at Idaho Conservation League) are proposed by ConocoPhillips in order to deliver massive oil equipment from the Port of Lewiston to a refinery in Billings. But this is merely the proverbial camel’s nose under IDT’s tent. Imperial Oil / Exxon Mobil has some 207 SHT loads proposed to take equipment from Lewiston, through Montana, to the massive tar sands oil development in Alberta. There is worry that the scenic Lochsa River byway will turn into a permanent “high and wide” industrial corridor.

Because of the connection to the tar sands project, the Highway 12 issue has international environmental implications. But the problems are acutely local for Peter, who is the owner and operator of the popular Riverdance Lodge along the highway. The slow rolling traffic backups caused by the SHT loads will create a safety hazard and huge inconvenience to Peter’s guests and his business.

Peter, his Lochsa River neighbors, and his Advocates for the West lawyers have been fighting goliath, just to get a fair hearing. They’ve won their legal challenges so far, and they have earned a full-blown evidentiary hearing scheduled late next week in Boise.

Hope you can join us Thursday to learn more.  And to give Peter a well-deserved round of applause.

UPDATE: See followup on the meeting here. With video!

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On Monday, according to Idaho Reporter, Gov. Butch Otter will be in Denver to talk wolves with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Governors of Wyoming and Montana. A legal morass and election-year political grandstanding have made a mess of  wolf management in the northern Rockies, and it certainly needs some high-level discussion.

It isn’t clear what Secretary Salazar will be bringing to the table Monday, but the meeting gives Gov. Otter the best opportunity to reverse his pre-election decision to no longer manage wolves in Idaho. Otter’s nonsensical decision, issued in the heat of his re-election campaign, is almost certain to be reversed. But the question is what political cover will Salazar provide to Otter in order to do so sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, the stalemate is probably doing everyone an ecological favor. Without a public hunt this year, the wolf population has an opportunity to create the interconnectedness and genetic diversity to more firmly establish the species’ recovery once and for all. Meanwhile, in the Idaho panhandle at least, the elk hunting is actually improved.  Wolves have evidently driven a healthy elk herd from the upper St. Joe to the closer-in Coeur d’Alene forests, where more hunters are being more successful in hunting more elk.

We’re hoping that some semblance of sanity will reign on Monday.  It is past time to settle the issue. Otherwise, long-running lawsuits, long-shot legislation, and ridiculously overheated rhetoric will continue to be the northern Rockies substitute for reasonable wolf management.

(Also worth reading: George Wuerthner on livestock predation. Can ranchers really expect a predator-free landscape?)

UPDATE 11/29Here is the Spokesman-Review’s AP report on how the meeting went. Nothing resolved, they “discussed a path forward,” but it seems Wyoming may still be a problem.

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Sure. The guy with the neck tattoo knocks on the door to shovel snow when there’s four inches of fluffy powder. But he’s nowhere to be found when there’s nine inches of the wet stuff.  So, while the ibuprofen kicks in, here’s what we’re reading this holiday weekend:

— Frustration with the largely voluntary approach to saving the Chesapeake Bay finally boils over.  Does grassroots power need to be deployed more effectively? Bay Action Plan

— New guidance for “categorical exclusions” from NEPA review. Have we learned important lessons from a certain deep water oil drilling disaster? CPR Blog

— What does climate change look like? Here are the photos: Lost islands in the Chesapeake and dead and dying white pine in Yellowstone.

— Why do we love our communities? Polling shows it isn’t the economy, stupid. NRDC Switchboard. (Also, Legal Planet.)

— John Wesley Powell understood the western water rights battleground and had a solution (and a cool map) in 1890. If only…  AqueousAdvisors.

— Good news and bad news for non-profits like ours. The bad news is that a growing number of Americans don’t give anything at all to charity. The good news is that most Americans still plan to give something this season.

— Finally, totally awesome photos of earth from space!  USGS/EROS

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As you probably know, we’ve been rallying support for water quality monitoring for weeks now.  We have been calling on Gov. Otter to restore funding to the budget to perform one of the basic functions under the Clean Water Act, something the Governor and legislature have declined to fund for the past two years. Of course, this is exactly what you’d expect of your local grassroots conservation organization.

But guess what — we’re not the only ones. Because of the potential impact that another year of non-monitoring  would have on water quality permitting and municipal budgets, a number of Idaho municipalities have joined in the chorus. Boise, Nampa, Hailey, Moscow, Post Falls, Ponderay, and Blaine County are on record as supporting the water quality monitoring line item in the budget.  (And we believe that more municipalities will be weighing in soon.)

Agriculture and industry should consider the impacts as well. A third straight year without water quality monitoring data could force EPA to require Idaho dischargers to meet stricter effluent standards in their permits.  A number of states have cut back on water quality monitoring during the tight budgets during the economic downturn, but Idaho’s elimination of the entire program for two years is unparalleled.

Idaho DEQ has been outspoken in the need for funding this year, and in an AP article over the weekend, Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little signaled that he understands the concern. But still no definitive word from Gov. Otter.  And, of course, any water quality line item would still need approval by the state legislature. So if you haven’t done so already, consider sending your governor and legislators a quick note. All of us in Idaho — individuals, cities and businesses alike — depend on clean water.

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Kootenai Environmental Alliance, along with Idaho Conservation League, Spokane Riverkeeper, Idaho Rivers United and The Lands Council submitted comments today to the EPA on the proposed amendment to the Upper Coeur d’Alene Basin Superfund Record of Decision.

The comments to the controversial EPA cleanup plan focused on several key points: (1) to ensure that the plan is protective of human health and the environment, (2) to ensure the best protection for the investment in remedies already in place, (3) to recommend improvements in community involvement and transparency as the cleanup moves forward, (4) to recommend improvements to the cleanup proposal, and (5) to recommend acceleration of the entire cleanup. The comments were also highly critical of Hecla Mining’s substitute 10-year plan, which would not be sufficient under the law, and would not meet appropriate cleanup and water quality standards.  Read the comments in their entirety here [a pdf document].

The comment period closes on Tuesday, after which, the EPA will review the comments and provide a response.  The response, along with a final decision on the cleanup, is expected in mid-2011.

 

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We’ve heard from a number of friends and members that they are being robocalled from the phony front group “Citizens for a Prosperous Silver Valley” which opposes the proposed cleanup in the Silver Valley.

We wish we could give better advice as to how to shut down the annoying phone calls, but we’re afraid that according to the Supreme Court the free speech rights of mining corporations is protected by the Constitution, and the national “Do Not Call Registry” does not apply to non-commercial calls.

For what it’s worth, the phone calls should end soon. The comment period for the draft EPA cleanup plan for the Silver Valley ends Tuesday. Or you can fight back. You can quickly and easily send comments electronically via the Idaho Conservation League here.

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The November 23 deadline for comments on the proposed EPA cleanup for the upper Coeur d’Alene basin is fast approaching, and we received the following email from EPA regarding how comments are being handled:

Many people are wondering how EPA is handling public comments on the Proposed Cleanup Plan for the Upper Basin, and when they might hear something back.  Here are answers those questions.

The public comment period on EPA’s Proposed Cleanup Plan closes November 23.  EPA has received hundreds of comments.  It will take time for the agency to consider and respond to all of them. EPA takes each comment seriously.   The agency is aware that the cleanup is complex, and is a topic which is deeply important to local citizens.  EPA has received comments both in favor of and against the plan.  EPA will consider changes to the proposed cleanup plan in response to public input.

All comments are being entered into an electronic database.  Comments will be logged individually and in categories.  This process ensures that each comment is accounted for and helps with an orderly, thorough response.  The agency will prepare a document called a “Response to Comments.”  It will include both a response to each comment and a summary response to each issue.

The Response to Comments will be issued to the public at the same time as the ROD (Record of Decision) Amendment, sometime in 2011.  The ROD Amendment is the final decision document.  It will describe the selected cleanup alternative.   The public will be able to request a hard copy of these documents and find them at select local libraries and on EPA’s website.

Website:  http://go.usa.gov/igD

 

We also noted today that Gov. Butch Otter submitted his comments on the plan. Otter, evidently, is supporting a much more limited cleanup, with a defined endpoint, coincidentally similar to Hecla Mining’s proposal.

Like Gov. Otter, we too wish that the work wouldn’t go on forever. But Otter’s solution almost guarantees that it will. Doing it his way — only cleaning up part of the basin and not treating clearly-contaminated water — means that water quality standards will never be met, and the cleanup will go on and on and on. In fact, in his letter, Otter makes an ironic request to EPA to “commit to cash flow and management of the settlement funds” to ensure funds are available “well into the future.”

Also, we think Gov. Otter should be a bit more honest about rhetoric in his letter about how EPA will “wildly spend public resources” and how it doesn’t “live within the people’s means.” This cleanup is funded primarily with trust funds from the polluters that made the mess in the first place, not taxpayers. His grandstanding is not helpful.

There is still time to send your comments. (Idaho Conservation League has made it super-easy to do so from their website.) EPA needs to hear voices calling for a comprehensive, complete, permanent cleanup. Not the incomplete option proposed by the Governor.

 

 

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For whatever the reason — budget priorities, neglect, antipathy to federal mandates — Idaho’s lack of proper attention to clean water is tilting toward disaster.

The Clean Water Act is one of this country’s most important environmental laws. Passed by Congress in 1972, it is responsible for some impressive success stories in the nation’s environmental history. However, in Idaho, the state’s failure to implement some of the basic requirements of the Clean Water Act is putting our waterways at risk.

For two years, Idaho has failed to do the basic water quality monitoring that is the underpinning of the Clean Water Act. Idaho has also failed to put into place the required regulations to keep clean waters from being degraded. Idaho is one of only four states that still refuses to issue water quality permits, leaving it up to the EPA to do so.  Idaho hasn’t found a way to properly regulate septic systems or stormwater. Idaho does a poor job of addressing non-point source pollution. And there is very little in the way of enforcement.

Clean water in Idaho is central to a healthy populace and a healthy economy. Clean water, in many respects, is what makes Idaho a great place to live.

But Idaho’s water quality program is dangerously close to violating both the letter and spirit of the Clean Water Act, and without more, the state is perhaps heading for a lawsuit trainwreck.  More importantly though, we don’t believe Idaho’s approach to water quality comports what Idahoans want from their government.  Tell the governor. Tell your legislators. We need a Clean Water Revival.

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Despite some of the rhetoric coming from opponents of the proposed Superfund cleanup of the upper Coeur d’Alene basin, “EPA go home” isn’t an option. In fact, the law is fairly clear why EPA is in the basin and what needs to be done. A quick review of the relevant federal regulations might be helpful.

According to the governing federal regulations, the EPA’s primary purpose in the cleanup process is to select remedies “that eliminate, reduce, or control risks to human health and the environment,” and remedies that “maintain protection over time and minimize untreated waste.”

In selecting a remedy, the EPA is required to meet basic “threshold criteria” that human health and the environment are protected and relevant standards are complied with. Only after the threshold criteria are met, the EPA can apply the “balancing criteria”  of “long term effectiveness and permanence; reduction of toxicity, mobility or volume through treatment; short term effectiveness; implementability; and cost.” State and community acceptance are “modifying criteria” which can help EPA adjust the balance according to comments received.

We are currently drafting our detailed comments, but we are sensitive to the legal obligations of EPA under the law, particularly the threshold criteria.  Overall, we are generally supportive the EPA’s attempts to address these fundamental legal obligations with this particular plan.  In sum, we believe the EPA plan has met the minimum threshold.  (A counterproposal from Helca Mining, on the other hand, does not.) Nevertheless, we will suggest some improvements that would make the remedy more protective of human health and the environment, more protective of remedies already in place, and that would provide better community acceptance. We also would accelerate the timeframes so that the upper basin cleanup might be accomplished more quickly and that a more comprehensive cleanup in the lower basin might proceed earlier.

In our view, the threshold criteria — that human health and the environment are protected, and that relevant cleanup standards are met — are the no-brainer reasons why the EPA plan is necessary. Nevertheless, given the ferocity of opposition to the proposed EPA cleanup, we think it is worth your time too, to remind EPA that you’re supportive of a cleanup meeting the letter and spirit of the law.  Our friends at Idaho Conservation League has made it extremely easy to do so electronically — click here to send EPA an email. Comments are due by November 23rd.

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The inevitable lawsuit has been filed in Kootenai County District Court regarding the absurd annexation of the Powderhorn peninsula by the tiny city of Harrison. Recall that in September, Harrison, a city of 300 or so residents, moved to annex land across the open waters of the Coeur d’Alene River for a massive gated-community golf course development with more than 1300 homes. Two citizens groups filed suit last week asking a Court to review the complicated annexation.

The lawsuit asks the court to review a number of irregularities in the annexation, but the most interesting claim is perhaps the most obvious. Under the “Category A” annexation process invoked by the City, the properties to be annexed must be “contiguous” to the city limits. According to the lawsuit however, that’s simply not the case.

Setting aside the absurdity of the annexation of across unbridged open water, there are complicated jurisdictional concerns.  In 1983, over the objections of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the City of Harrison extended its jurisdiction one quarter-mile across the surface of Lake Coeur d’Alene.  According to the City, the Powderhorn property is contiguous when this quarter-mile extension is stretched across the water. However, the lawsuit puts is plainly:

The city limits of the City of Harrison, even if including the 1/4 mile extension of surface water jurisdiction, is 3826 feet east of the nearest Powderhorn Ranch, LLC property, and this intervening 3826 feet is entirely underwater.

In addition to the contiguity problem, the lawsuit calls into question Harrison’s interpretation of an agreement with the Coeur d’Alene  Tribe which was supposed to settle jurisdictional questions over the waterways. According to the lawsuit, the agreement’s terms do not provide the necessary consent by the Tribe to annexation over the lake bed and river bed, which is in the Tribe’s ownership.

A number of other issues are also raised in the Court filing, including Harrison’s violations of open meetings rules, conflict of interest issues during the annexation deliberations, and the City’s failure to abide by its legal agreement with Kootenai County regarding annexations beyond its Area of City Impact (ACI).

The issues are highly technical and legally complicated, to be sure. What isn’t complicated, though, is the ridiculousness of the proposed Powderhorn development. It is an inappropriately large concentration of development in a rural area, with its only access to a roadway that can’t handle the traffic, and on a dry peninsula without adequate water resources for the intensity of development proposed. It is the dumbest of dumb growth planned for North Idaho.  We hope the Court will recognize the development proposal’s technical overreach, and strike down the annexation. Maybe then the City will have another chance to reconsider its economic and municipal suicide through this preposterous annexation.

 

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