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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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We received notice today that our colleagues at Idaho Rivers United have filed a lawsuit in federal court in Boise claiming that the U.S. Forest Service violated the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by allowing Idaho’s Department of Transportation to issue permits for transporting megaloads up the Lochsa / Clearwater corridor.

The lawsuit claims that the Forest Service simply abdicated their authority and responsibility to protect the Wild and Scenic corridor. The lawsuit, brought by attorneys at Advocates for the West, states: “Rather than acting to prevent the establishment of a high-and-wide corridor through the Clearwater National Forest, the Forest Service has cooperated with ITD and authorized modifications to the right-of-way. As a result, the Forest Service has facilitated and effectively approved the mega-shipments to proceed up Highway 12.”

The lawsuit points out that the megaload shipments would have serious impacts on river-running tourism trade in the spring and summer. According to IRU, “Tying up the winding, narrow, two-lane road — along with its scenic pullouts — during the spring and summer tourist season would also restrict recreational access to the Wild & Scenic rivers and adjacent forest.”

In the IRU press release, Justin Walsh, an outfitter and guide says, “The amazing whitewater is only part of the reason people buy trips from me. It’s the scenery, the ambiance, the overall grandeur of the place. There’s no question that the river remains the way it is because of the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act, and there’s no question that those qualities would be impacted by these loads of super-sized equipment sitting along the river.”

As the first two megaloads were met by protesters as they passed through Missoula overnight, the oil industry and their governmental facilitators now have more explaining to do in a federal courtroom.

 

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We finally confirmed a juicy rumor we heard earlier this morning that Wes Hanson – KEA Board member and Art Manley Award winner — was just appointed to fill one of two vacancies on the Kootenai County Planning Commission.  The other new appointee is Collin Coles, a former planner for the City of Post Falls.

The Planning Commission will have a central role in the upcoming development of a new and updated zoning and development code. The complicated overhaul is long overdue, with much of the current code dating back to the 1970s. (New Commissioner Coles will be able to draw on his code-development experience in Post Falls, which adopted an innovative Smart Code scheme for land use regulation while Coles was chief planner there.)

Wes, who has put in long hours influencing the development of the County’s comprehensive plan, and has a long history of involvement in land conservation and protecting rural values, will be a fantastic addition to the Planning Commission.

 

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In a letter dated March 4th, the district managers for both the Coeur d’Alene and Boise districts of the BLM rejected the proposed land exchange that would have transferred some 9000 acres of North Idaho BLM property to M3, in exchange for some 11,000 acres of M3 lands in the Boise foothills.  M3, an Arizona-based development company with an interest in a large development proposal outside of Eagle, had intended to immediately flip the North Idaho BLM properties to the Idaho Forest Group for timber harvesting. In the letter, BLM says “We have concluded this exchange proposal is not in the public’s best interest.”

Last summer, KEA submitted a letter to Congressional representatives and BLM sharply critical of the proposed exchange.

According to the BLM’s analysis, the acquisition of the sagebrush steppe southern parcels was not equivalent to the loss of high natural resource and timber values of the forested North Idaho lands. BLM noted specifically that the value of the North Idaho properties would be expected to increase substantially in value, while the value of the southern parcels would “remain at or near current value” due to their limited development potential.

The BLM also noted that many of the North Idaho parcels proposed for exchange had high resource values for “wildlife, fisheries, recreation, open space, timber, and threatened and endangered species habitat and connectivity” that were not equaled by the southern properties.

Notably, the BLM letter seemed to foreclose any further action on this exchange for the immediate future. The letter says BLM will not consider “further modifications or refinements” from M3 until the BLM’s Boise office completes its planning process for the Four Rivers area, where the southern part of the exchange would occur. The Four Rivers plan is expected to be completed in 2013.

 

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