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Archive for February, 2011

Oscars edition:

The buzz started to be more audible with the Academy Award nominated movie Gasland, but there’s been a lot of outstanding new reporting about “fracking” — the process of hydraulic fracturing to capture natural gas. The process comes with a whole new range of environmental issues without much regulatory oversight. See the extensive reporting from ProPublica and the New York Times.  And our friends at Idaho Conservation League explain Idaho will not be exempt. Payette County is already facing the threat.

A book review of Carter Niemeyer’s Wolfer.  Louisa Wilcox of NRDC

Speaking of wolves, here are all the legal briefs filed recently in Judge Malloy’s court regarding whether wolves are still an “experimental” species. Courtesy of The Wildlife News

Interesting polling data shows that 74% of self-identified Tea Party voters in the west also consider themseleves to be conservationists. High Country News

Ever wonder about who’s in charge of your neighborhood association? How about “a relatively new resident, interested in neighborhood activities and the outdoors, and who had experience in Maine overseeing an estate of 26 acres.” Washington Post (H/T Kaid Benfield at NRDC)

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Many of you got the franked mailing from Raul Labrador announcing tonight’s first public town meeting in Coeur d’Alene since being elected to Congress last fall. The meeting comes just as the U.S. House of Representatives, under new GOP leadership, passed a contentious version of a continuing resolution to keep funding the government.

We’re looking forward to the meeting, because we think there’s some explanation that Raul owes his Northern Idaho constituents. We certainly understand the need to cut the budget, and we understand the mood of the electorate last fall signaled that direction for Congress. What we don’t understand is the collateral attacks on environmental protection that have very little to do with the budget deficit.

For example, how is the budget deficit served by refusing to enforce the Clean Air Act for mercury pollution from cement kilns? Most of Idaho’s waterways have a mercury pollution problem severe enough that deserve fish consumption advisories are probably warranted. With Idaho leadership, we recently took a step forward by regulating mercury emissions in gold-processing facilities, now, nationally, we take two steps back.

More broadly, how is the budget deficit served by not enforcing the Clean Water Act in the Chesapeake Bay? Or in Florida? Or allowing coal burning power plants to dump into waterways? Or allowing arctic drilling without any environmental oversight? Or prohibiting enforcement of the Travel Management Rule in National Forests? Blocking stream buffer rules in the Office of Surface Mining? Applying the Clean Water Act in mining permits?

Like we said, we get the need to cut the budget. We don’t get the need to deregulate industry by budget votes in the middle of the night. We wonder if Congressman Labrador will provide an explanation.

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Migrating birds can’t read the signs in the lower Coeur d’Alene basin.  They don’t know that much of the basin is contaminated with heavy metals, and they don’t know that simply landing to rest and to feed could be lethal.  Every year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service collects at least 150 dead tundra swans in the Coeur d’Alene River corridor. Short of cleaning up the entire mess, which will take decades at the earliest, what can be done to keep the birds from getting sick?

The EPA and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, with the help of Ducks Unlimited, recently restored a 400 acre wetland tract just north of Medimont, with the purpose of making it clean and safe for birds and wildlife. But also, as an EPA staffer put it, “We want to make it as attractive as possible, so birds say, ‘Let’s overnight here!'” The wetland restoration needed to be irresistibly good.

This week’s meeting, noon Thursday at the Iron Horse, features a fascinating discussion with Brian Spears from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on this natural resource restoration in the lower Coeur d’Alene basin. The restoration project, begun in 2007, is showing truly remarkable results. It is, by design, the most attractive wetland on the river. Birds are flocking to it.

 

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I’m heading out of town for some mid-winter sunshine (I hope) and the blogging will be light, if at all, this week. Meanwhile, ponder some of this stuff coming out of Washington DC. The House GOP has some truly devastating cuts for environmental protection planned. Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson chairs the subcommittee that will inflict the damage.

Newt Gingrich wants to get rid of the EPA entirely. The House GOP budget proposal does it for him. — NRDC here and here.

The budget cuts funds for grants to state and local entities for clean drinking water and sewer construction projects. — NRDC

The proposed budget would be devastating for species protection efforts. — NRDC (Including wolves)

BLM’s effort to manage wild lands? That’s not happening either. — Idaho Statesman (See also Idaho Reporter on the state legislature’s nullification fetish extending to the BLM.)

 

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In yet another attempt to update regulations for planning on National Forests, today, the U.S. Forest Service released a draft planning rule for public comment. The current regulations for forest planning date back to 1982. Attempts at revision have been delayed, scuttled, or struck down by courts. The new rule would apply nationally to some 155 National Forests, including our own Idaho Panhandle National Forest.

According to the Forest Service press release, “The proposed planning rule provides a collaborative and science-based framework for creating land management plans that would support ecological sustainability and contribute to rural job opportunities. The proposed rule includes new provisions to guide forest and watershed restoration and resilience, habitat protection, sustainable recreation, and management for multiple uses of the National Forest System, including timber.”

The new rule will be subject to a comment period scheduled to end May 16. A public meeting on the rule has been tentatively scheduled for Coeur d’Alene in March.

 

 

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We are in the process of developing our detailed comments to Team McEuen regarding the proposals for McEuen Park. Over the next few days, we’ll roll out some of our thoughts and concerns relating to the proposal here on the blog. Today: the ball fields and the boat launch.

Other than parking, the loss of the boat launch and the ball fields are the largest changes in use at the new proposal for McEuen Park. For these amenities, Team McEuen’s mission statement to provide the “greatest number of uses for the greatest number of people, of all ages and abilities, throughout all seasons” is perhaps somewhat in tension with the City’s constraint to “ensure the replacement of any displaced facilities with equal or better facilities.”

While not taking specific positions on the specific proposals for these specific amenities, we believe, generally, that the mission statement needs to be served with clear and convincing evidence, and the constraint needs to be met with concrete plans without a significant gap in service. Only then will Team McEuen’s charge be met.

With respect to the boat launch in particular, KEA has always been at the very forefront of the challenge to acquire more public access to the state’s waterways, particularly Coeur d’Alene Lake.  It is a huge lake with extremely limited access for the general public. This is particularly true for boats, but also for fishing, swimming, and just playing by the shoreline. It is for this reason that any elimination of access, of any use, needs to be accompanied by substantial new opportunities for that use. Merely trading a boating use for a more general-purpose public and aesthetic access at 3rd street is not, in itself, a sufficient trade. That said, the addition of a boat launch at the NIC campus is an intriguing potential solution which deserves consideration. And, clearly, the removal of the parking set aside for the boat-launching use is a huge improvement.

Of course, just as KEA has been at the forefront of access issues on the lake, KEA has also been long concerned with the impacts of shoreline and marina construction. For example, KEA along with fellow regional conservation organizations supplied detailed comments in the permitting process of the renovation of the nearby Blackwell Island marina. Permitting of a new boat launch at the NIC location will not be easy, nor will it be cheap. We will certainly insist that the construction and its use be consistent with sound environmental protection principles. These complications are too easily dismissed at this conceptual level, with the engineering details left to later stages of design. We would urge Team McEuen and the City to provide realistic assessment of these difficulties as part of the decision-making process.

 

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We are in the process of developing our detailed comments to Team McEuen regarding the proposals for McEuen Park. Over the next few days, we’ll roll out some of our thoughts and concerns relating to the proposal here on the blog. Today: Parking.

Team McEuen’s approach to parking is quite literal in its adherence to the city-prescribed design principle to “ensure the replacement of any displaced facilities with equal or better facilities.” The team has essentially doubled the parking by place several below-grade levels under Front Street and by expanding the lot by City Hall.

While we are 100% supportive of the removal of the current wasteful and ugly surface parking lot, Team McEuen’s design approach to parking, in our view, is still troublesome. The design is visually problematic and limits pedestrian access to the park. Moreover, we believe the proposed parking is expensive, oversupplied, and in the wrong location for the broader purposes of the City of Coeur d’Alene.

1. Access to the park – The location and structure of the parking facility on Front Street will seriously limit the points of access to the park itself from downtown. Access from downtown will be limited to discrete stairways and bridge structures from the parking facility into the park. Indeed a pedestrian from downtown will need to traverse the parking. The goal of linking downtown to the waterfront is actually impeded by placing the parking structure along and under Front Street. Access, both to and from the park, by crowds for big events like the Fourth of July, is actually going to be impeded by such limited access.  Besides, denser structured parking would be better located on the City Hall side, or better yet, a block or two away in downtown itself.

2. Sightlines from the park toward the city – While much detailed work has been done to enhance and protect the vistas from the park to the water, the parking structure will be seriously to the detriment of the vista from the park toward downtown. Indeed when a visitor looks from the well-appointed park back toward the commercial center of town, the view will be, essentially, a two story wall of parking. While vegetative screening is likely to help somewhat, the distinct and severe structural boundary will remain for all to see.

3. Oversupplied in the wrong location – The emphasis on the parking in Team McEuen’s design has resulted in a dramatic oversupply of parking that will only on the rarest of occasions be used to capacity.  Indeed, the current lots are only rarely at capacity. Moreover, to the extent that the parking capacity is needed for the downtown central business district, it is located at what will be the permanent periphery of downtown, making downtown growth northerly less probable. To the extent that the parking is needed for the park itself, it is at a location which will make pedestrian traffic through the business district much less likely, limiting the purported economic advantages to redeveloping the park. We strongly suggest that the bulk of the parking, and particularly any significant parking structures, be located away from the park, above Sherman Ave.  This will be a much greater benefit to downtown businesses, and will ameliorate the impacts of having a structure on the park’s border.

4. Expensive – Structured parking may be the most expensive feature at McEuen Park, and it would be a bit of a travesty if a large proportion of the funding for the park’s renovation went to parking rather than the park itself. We are not necessarily opposed to structured parking downtown –it could serve a number of important redevelopment purposes – just not at McEuen Park. There are a number of locations north of Sherman Ave. that would make much better locations for a parking facility, and at which the structure could be built much less expensively, or as part of a mixed-use development less dependent on government-arranged financing.

 

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We are in the process of developing our detailed comments to Team McEuen regarding the proposals for McEuen Park. Over the next few days, we’ll roll out some of our thoughts and concerns relating to the proposal here on the blog. Today: Tubbs Hill.

Indeed, one of the more controversial aspects of the Team McEuen design is that a number of proposed features impact Tubbs Hill. The designers have proposed an accessible trail across the north face of Tubbs Hill, enhanced trailheads with structures and water features, an observation platform, and a sledding hill. The designers have explained that the Tubbs features help the designers with their charge to provide the “greatest number of uses for the greatest number of people, of all ages and abilities, throughout all seasons.”

The Tubbs Hill Foundation, an influential advisory group that keeps a watchful eye over the City’s natural masterpiece, issued a statement last month(pdf) regarding the McEuen Park plans re-emphasizing their desire to preserve Tubbs Hill in its natural state. Specifically, the Foundation opposed paving of Tubbs Hill trails, and it opposed “constructed elements” on Tubbs Hill, specifically itemizing the trailheads, an observation platform, water features, and the sledding hill. The Foundation says such elements are inconsistent with the long-standing management plan which states, “Tubbs Hill, a city park, shall be managed to provide for people’s use and enjoyment while maintaining the natural setting that provides this outdoor experience.”

In sum, we agree. In fact, for a variety of good reasons, the scope of the McEuen proposal should stop at the base of Tubbs Hill.

1. Visual integrity — A major concern is that the proposal sacrifices the visual integrity of the beautiful green backdrop that Tubbs Hill gives to McEuen Park. The proposed improvements would be visible from McEuen and the rest of the City of Coeur d’Alene, and would scar the otherwise natural forested hillside. The natural character of the McEuen-facing hillside should remain undisturbed to the extent possible.

2. Construction impacts and permanent disturbance — The construction impacts and disturbance created by opening the forest canopy for the proposed features are likely to invite more difficulty with invasive species. Moreover, the necessity for grading and heavier equipment for construction will likely have impacts on the stormwater, erosion and will likely boost nutrient inputs to the Lake. Such hillside development would be legally and environmentally problematic for a private developer on private property. Such development should not be excused and allowed to occur on City lands.

3. Sledding Hill — We are concerned that the clearance of trees for construction of a sledding hill in the winter months would leave a permanent scar on the hillside in non-winter months. There are better and more organic locations for sledding than Tubbs Hill.

4. Faux features — The Team McEuen proposal makes the unfortunate choice to suggest manmade waterfalls and gardens to greet Tubbs Hill visitors at the trailheads. Indeed, such a design decision misses the fundamental reasoning behind the fierce protection of Tubbs Hill as a natural area. Manmade aesthetic enhancement is simply unnecessary on Tubbs Hill.

5. Accessibility –We appreciate the desire to make the Tubbs Hill experience accessible to people of all abilities, but such accessibility should probably be part of an overall strategy for Tubbs Hill, not McEuen Park. The ADA requires very specific accessibility design and performance standards for new and substantially improved trails, specifying such things as the trail’s width, slope, surface, headroom, passing room, and obstructions. Such standards will be expensive and difficult to implement on Tubbs Hill without significant construction activity and harm to the visual experience. There is an exemption to the accessibility guidelines only if compliance would “cause substantial harm to cultural, historic, religious, or significant natural features or characteristics.” Arguably such an exception exists in this instance. However, we suggest that Tubbs Hill accessibility is a problem separate and apart from McEuen Park, and should be considered in a different planning process.

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KEA's Korrine Kreilkamp, pleased with the meeting -- photo by KEA BlackberryCam

As if they just knew that the groundhog would be calling for an early spring, KEA’s Roots CSA scheduled their meeting for last night at the ever-supportive Art Spirit Gallery to begin preparations for the new growing season.  With a few of last year’s shareholders and some new CSA team members, the meeting kicked off the planning for what we hope will be another successful season for our region’s only charitable community supported agriculture (CSA) effort.

In the Roots CSA, half of the subscriptions are specifically reserved for low income subscribers, whose subscriptions were subsidized by donations and fundraising efforts. A central premise in our CSA model is to provide access to fresh nutritious local food to anyone, including those in need.

Roots CSA 2011 Team: Kara, Susan, and Korrine -- photo by KEA BlackberryCam

The new Roots CSA team was introduced: Along with KEA’s local food wizard Korrine Kreilkamp, Susan Selle is our enthusiastic new farmer, and new addition Kara Carleton will be assisting with new outreach and educational components to the CSA.

The evening’s brainstorming session first identified some new ideas and improvements for this growing season. For example, last year’s subscribers to the CSA got a big box of fresh vegetables every other week. Among the ideas at this brainstorming session was to make a smaller box of veggies available every week. But the brainstorming also led into a discussion of what an expanded CSA might look like. More food, for more people, sustainably, organically, and locally, of course, but so many details to work through.

Although the temperatures haven’t really rebounded, the sunlight is sticking around a little longer in the afternoons. No better time than now to think about summer.

 

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We just sent our letter off to the U.S. Forest Service calling for a winter closure of a road on 4th of July Pass so that quiet ski and snowshoe hiking can continue without motorized disruptions.

We submitted a letter to support a Special Use Permit proposal from Panhandle Nordic Ski Club which calls for the Forest Service to close roads 614 and 918 to motorized winter travel. KEA originally submitted comments to the Forest Service in April 2009 supporting winter closure of FSR 614 in favor of non-motorized winter recreation.

From our letter:

Allowing motorized vehicles to travel FSR 614 in winter is fundamentally incompatible with the predominant and traditional non-motorized winter uses in that location.  Motorized uses ruin cross country ski tracks, disrupt attempts to groom ski trails, and introduce unwanted noise and exhaust fumes.  Cross country skiers and snowshoe hikers seek and need quiet Forest Service roads to enjoy their sports. More generally, motorized uses are also disruptive of wildlife habitat and can cause trail damage lead to erosion and watershed impacts. Still, motorized winter sports enthusiasts have an abundance of trails located north of I-90 and elsewhere in the Coeur d’Alene River District.

Anyone interested in commenting should sent a quick note to the NEPA Coordinator, Coeur d’Alene River Ranger District, U.S. Forest Service, 2502 E. Sherman Ave., Coeur d’Alene, ID 83814. Comments are due by February 25th.

 

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