Archive for March, 2011

KEA’s Adrienne Cronebaugh and Korrine Kreilkamp report:

The Community Roots and Shared Harvest gals have eagerly been awaiting spring so they could dig in and get their hands dirty.  Although it’s still a bit rainy and gray outside, the programs are already flourishing due to the renovation of a new greenhouse at the The Jewitt House. With the wonderful people at the Jewitt House, along with more wonderful people at the City of Coeur d’Alene’s Parks Department, Waste Water Treatment Facility, and Water Department, a dilapidated shed has been renovated into a gorgeous community greenhouse, and we’ve put it to use for Roots charitable food purposes.

This past week, we planted seeds that will serve as starter plants for the Community Roots CSA, Shared Harvest plot owners, and city Xeriscape (water conservation landscaping) efforts.

The Community Roots CSA is a charitable Community Supported Agriculture program that is entering their second season in Dalton Gardens.  The CSA allows the community to be involved with the production of locally grown, environmentally friendly food, while promoting sustainable farming methods and the reduction of our carbon footprint in “food miles.”

Shared Harvest is a volunteer run community garden located at 10th and Foster in downtown Coeur d’Alene. A once vacant lot was transformed into garden plots where neighbors sow individual plots while learning environmentally friendly gardening and water conservation techniques.  Excess produce is also collected and donated to local food assistance facilities in the area.

Xeriscapes are water efficient landscapes that help protect our scarce water resources. Xeriscape plants use only a fraction of the water needed by thirsty lawns and some require little to no supplemental watering once established.  Xeriscape seedlings will be handed out free to the public at the upcoming Wednesday Farmers Market along with additional water-wise information.

Next weekend our gardeners will finish up planting. However, we are still looking for volunteers to help with weekly watering at the greenhouse through May.  If you or someone you know may be interested in getting more involved, please contact Kara at kldg@me.com.



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On April 7th, the Kootenai County Commissioners will hold a hearing on the first significant land use legislation since the election last fall. County staff, at the urging of some development interests, are proposing an amendment to the county ordinance that governs shoreline protection. Promoted as a needed fix to a dysfunctional ordinance, the proposed legislation (pdf) would create three exceptions to the County’s site disturbance ordinance which restricts development activities along streambanks and shorelines. In February, the Planning Commission, by a narrow 3-2 margin, recommended the legislation be forwarded to the County Commissioners for consideration.

The County’s site disturbance ordinance, as frustratingly unworkable as it can be, is designed to sharply limit the amount of construction in a narrow buffer strip along county waterways. It is intended to protect water quality by preventing sediment and nutrients and stormwater runoff from shoreline development and construction disturbances.

The problem, according to developers and builders, is that the restrictions also limit the ability to make repairs and improvements that could actually improve water quality protection. For example, proponents say fixing a failing retaining wall should be permitted when a failure would obviously cause huge amounts of sediment to be released. Unfortunately, the draft legislation goes far beyond a narrow fix to this sort of specific problem.

The draft legislation proposes three new “exceptions” to the site disturbance ordinance, describing the conditions under which the strict limits on development activity would not apply.  The draft legislation’s most problematic exceptions is:

Exception 3: The Board of County Commissioners may consider and allow site disturbances, construction and improvements within the Stream Protection Buffer and/or Shoreline Protection Buffer where it is determined that the project is of such size, scale, regional economic benefit and/or nature that allowing the work to proceed is found to be in the best interests of the public, including but not limited to…

In other words, all restrictions on development in the shoreline protection zone could be eliminated for any project simply “found to be in the best interests of the public.” By its very terms, this exception makes shoreline water quality regulations a matter of completely subjective and standardless decision-making by the Commissioners. Especially for large projects with potentially large impacts.

Many of our local waterways are already impaired and already have very little protection against erosion and runoff. The sediments and nutrients choking the oxygen out of our lakes indicate a need for more restrictions, not more exceptions.  The huge gaping loophole of “Exception 3” is the exception that eviscerates the rule.

The County recently adopted a variance procedure to allow development activity in cases of hardship, and the variance procedure could be applied to any of the exception circumstances anticipated by the proposed legislation. Therefore, this particular legislative fix may be more convenient but it isn’t strictly necessary.

Still, we don’t necessarily begrudge the County’s desire to make temporary fixes to a dysfunctional ordinance that can, occasionally, be counter-productive.  However, this legislation proposes an overly-broad  and dramatic change in established development rules. Such significant changes might be better left for the zoning and development  code overhaul about to get underway. We will urge the commissioners to eliminate the sweeping “exception 3” language, and we’d encourage friends and members to do so as well.


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Understanding that the job is difficult, but also extremely important, the Kootenai County Commissioners are wasting no time getting on with the business of re-writing zoning and development regulations. On Friday and Saturday, we were pleased to be invited to participate in an interview process for the consultant team to be hired to rewrite the land use laws in the County. The Commissioners signaled that they will make a final decision on the code-writing team very soon.

In an exhausting all-day session Friday, four finalist teams interviewed round-robin-style with four panels of local interviewers. The interview panels included the County Commissioners, Planning Commissioners, planning staff from the county and the county’s municipalities, developers and private planners, and neighborhood and environmental interests. On Saturday morning, the local interviewers reconvened with the Commissioners to debrief.

The job, as all the code-writing candidates acknowledged, won’t be easy. The candidates were all candid that tough decisions left undone in the comprehensive plan (e.g. development densities) will need to be revisited and resolved sooner rather than later by the County Commissioners. All of the candidates acknowledged that the current prevalence of 5-acre-lot rural zoning is problematic in achieving the comp plan goals of rural and natural resource protection. And all of the candidates commented that the current patchwork of 1970s-era land use coding absolutely positively needs the overhaul.

The good news, as strange as it sounds, is that the Commissioners will have a very difficult final decision. Each of the consultant teams had strengths and weaknesses and differing styles and approaches. But each of the teams also brought clear and convincing competence and capability. The across-the-board consensus among interviewers during the post-interview debriefing was that the candidates for the job were more-than-qualified.

The County Commissioners and the County planning staff deserve a great deal of credit for moving the process along, and for (soon) bringing very talented professionals to our County to bring our zoning and development codes up to date.


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The ink is barely dry on the new Kootenai County comprehensive plan, but it’s been in the works so long, it’s as if we can’t stop working on it. The next step, of course, is for the county to re-write the zoning and development regulations to come into accord with the new plan. County officials and local leaders are evaluating potential consultants to help with the re-write this week.

Because the County Commissioners avoided putting development densities in the comprehensive plan, clearly that will be a point of contention as the regulations get written. But what else? Here is an initial list of things to watch in the regulations, but we’d like to hear your concerns too:

1. Rural densities – this was a battle that was fought to a draw in the comprehensive plan. In our view, rural character requires rural development densities. The current allowed density of one unit per five acres is too dense to be truly rural, and not dense enough for efficient growth patterns over the long term.

2. Shoreline regulation – the new comp plan provides a lot of soft language purporting to protect our waterbodies. But to do so legitimately, the development regulations will need to be much stronger than they are now.  Currently the county relies on strict and cumbersome development limits in a very narrow buffer strip along shorelines and stream banks. A proven better solution, for builders and waterways alike, would be to control development on a much larger buffer, but allow more building flexibility within the buffer too.

3. Form-based development codes – The city of Post Falls recently adopted “Smart Code” regulations, an innovative and different approach to development regulation being adopted in many communities around the Country.  Rather than zoning which relies on the regulation of the “use” of the property, the regulations deal with the “form” of the development to make a more integrated and coherent community. To use a recent fiasco in the County as an example, rather than trying to determine the proper zoning regulations to apply to something described as a “party barn” in a rural zone, a form based code would use more general performance standards — for building design, parking, noise, setbacks, signage, landscaping, traffic, etc. – appropriate for any type of development in a rural zone. In this regard, we think Kootenai County has the opportunity to do something smart and innovative, if it chooses to do so.

4. The zoning map – The text of the development regulations will apply to properties according to zones actually drawn on a county map. This is, of course, where the impacts to individual properties will be felt. But it is also where impacts to our resources will occur if the map is too accommodating to development interests. It will be important that the map keep high-density development where it is appropriate and provide specific resource protections to the specific locations where they are most needed.

5. Grandfathering – We expect (and hope) that a lot of properties currently zoned for higher sprawl-level densities will be zoned for lower rural densities under the new code. We expect that some property owners will lobby to have the higher development potential grandfathered into the new zoning. The types of properties (and property owners) which will be eligible for grandfathering, and the circumstances and time limits under which it will be allowed will be a source of controversy. As a general rule in any rezoning exercise, the less grandfathering, the better.



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The railroad corporation BNSF, which operates a controversial refueling station in Hauser, over the Rathdrum Prairie aquifer, has taken Kootenai County to court over tighter aquifer protection measures. The County wants to make the new measures part of a permit renewal for the facility. After agreeing to a set of conditions in its original negotiated permit some ten years ago, BNSF is now opposed to any new conditions and is claiming that the County has no jurisdiction at all over railroad operations.

The refueling station sits above the sole source of drinking water for more than 500,000 people — including most of the population in the Coeur d’Alene / Spokane corridor. Local residents will recall that shortly after opening in 2004, the refueling station began to leak. A state judge had to shut the facility down for 74 days while repairs were made to a cracked platform and crushed pipes. As a result of the leak, BNSF pumped nearly 2000 gallons of leaked fuel from the aquifer.  BNSF blamed shoddy construction, and it claims the facility has been leak-free ever since.

As part of its current permit, BNSF has been responsible for funding a monitoring program with Idaho DEQ.  The monitoring program was scheduled to sunset after 10 years, but as part of the permit renewal, Kootenai County wants to make the monitoring permanent. However, BNSF no longer wants to pay for monitoring.

Also as part of the permit renewal, Kootenai County is calling for a new groundwater monitoring plan with new wells and new procedures. As perhaps the biggest sticking point, Kootenai County wants to amend conditions in the permit so that there could be a quicker shutdown of the refueling station in the event of a leak. A quicker shutdown could mean quicker repairs — hopefully before the leak could make its way to the aquifer.

Taking a hard-line stance in court filings, BNSF argues that railroads are regulated only by the federal government, and local regulations are therefore not applicable. The corporation says that it only voluntarily agreed to the earlier regulations, and that the company no longer wishes to abide by the county’s requirements.

Any courtroom drama may be averted, however, if ongoing negotiations between the parties bear fruit. The company recently sponsored a tour of the facility, and County recently hosted a “workshop” for the parties to explore room for settlement. To our knowledge, those discussions are ongoing.

Even though it never should have been permitted over the aquifer in the first place, Kootenai County deserves a lot of credit for standing up to this facility’s legal intimidation tactics. In the negotiations, we hope the county will stick by its guns and insist on the relatively inexpensive additional protections proposed for our critical aquifer. We also hope BNSF will reconsider their opposition to these common sense aquifer protections.

And, in a world so filled with worst-case-scenarios lately, we continue to hope that, someday, BNSF will just move the facility somewhere else less risky.


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In a move that may, or may not, resolve the federal lawsuit over the delisting of wolves from Endangered Species Act protections, 10 of the 14 conservation and wildlife organizations that filed the lawsuit have agreed to a tentative settlement. Also, the tentative agreement may, or may not, cause Congress to reconsider efforts to delist wolves legislatively.

The agreement would be subject to approval by Judge Malloy in the federal courtroom in Montana, and subject to a number of procedural niceties. The basics of the agreement would return wolves to state management in Idaho and Montana, but not Wyoming or other bordering states with still-recovering populations of wolves. The agreement would also set up a scientific panel within two years to evaluate wolf recovery numbers in the region.

The deal, theoretically, eliminates any need for Congressional action, and notably, the settlement agreement states that it is “null and void” if Congress acts to delist wolves. Still, it appears as if Idaho’s Congressional delegation, all Republicans, are not backing off. However, the deal does have support from Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat. And Senator Max Baucus, a Democrat critical in Congressional budget negotiations, was non-committal.

We’re still parsing the words of the settlement, the words from congressional and political leaders, and words of the organizations involved in the lawsuit. Here’s what we’re reading:

Here’s the actual proposed settlement agreement (pdf)

Clear-eyed reporting and analysis from Idaho Statesman’s Rocky Barker.  And Montana reporting from the Missoulian.

Statements from Rep. Mike Simpson, Sen. Mike Crapo, Sen. Jim Risch, and Sen. Max Baucus.

The statement from the Interior Department regarding the settlement.

Statements from WildEarth Guardians (one of the groups not agreeing to the settlement), Defenders of Wildlife (and the other groups signing on to the settlement) and EarthJustice (formerly attorneys for all the groups, but now, because of the split, not attorneys for any of them).

UPDATE 3/20: More analysis from the Statesman’s Rocky Barker.

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We were disappointed to see the Coeur d’Alene press editorial today, pitting well-meaning citizens against each other unnecessarily over accessibility to Tubbs Hill. The CDA Press promotes a false choice between accessibility and protecting the natural setting — both values important to our community, but not necessarily competing.

As we wrote previously, we believe the Tubbs Hill experience should be accessible to people of all abilities, but perhaps such accessibility should be part of an overall strategy for Tubbs Hill, not McEuen Park.  The Americans with Disabilities Act — landmark civil rights legislation — 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 in the manner and location suggested by Team McEuen without significant construction activity and risk of harm to the overall visual experience. There are other, and much better, accessibility possibilities for Tubbs Hill worth exploring first.

What was proposed as an after-thought add-on to McEuen renovations should not be used as a wedge in our community. Tubbs Hill accessibility is a problem separate and apart from McEuen Park, and it should be considered in a different planning process — a process, we hope, which can be more inclusive and collaborative than simply picking sides, as the CDA Press would have us do.


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