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Archive for June, 2011

Just a very quick mini-update, but our local Waterkeeper friends – Spokane Riverkeeper and Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper — are justifiably concerned about a new Congressional attack on the federal Clean Water Act.  We’ll publish more information on this soon, but you can get a head start now — read more and take action here.

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This morning, Kootenai County Department of Parks and Waterways Director Nick Snyder forwarded a couple of photos of the 13 brand new “No Wake Zone” buoys just installed across the mouth of Cougar Bay last week. Snyder added:

“In the next two weeks, we will have LED navigational lights affixed to the buoys. The buoys will help recreational boaters and marine law enforcement identify the line of navigability, as well as protect natural resources within Cougar Bay.”  

Meanwhile, we hear that the formal agreement between the Cougar Bay Osprey Protective Association and Kootenai County regarding the pilings in Cougar Bay is nearing final approval. (More about this VERY soon, we think.)

The installation of the buoys and the formal agreement will represent the culmination of a great deal of hard work to Save Cougar Bay as the last quiet bay on Coeur d’Alene Lake. The preservation of the pilings, the installation of the no wake zone buoys, and the withdrawal of a proposal for mooring buoys in Cougar Bay will all serve to protect the sensitive bay for wildlife and quiet recreation for the foreseeable future.

Our thanks go out to Nick Snyder and his Department: Scott Reed, Sue Flamia and the Osprey Protective Association; and Kootenai County Commissioner Jai Nelson, who took a special interest in pushing for a resolution. Our thanks also go out to our friends and members whose attention and commitment to Cougar Bay made the agreements possible.

Now that summer is here and the buoys are installed – get out and enjoy Cougar Bay!

 

 

 

 

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Faced with a subdivision proposal on a steep hillside above Hayden Lake, the Kootenai County Commissioners struggled today with the County’s subdivision ordinances and denied the request. The subdivision would have placed some 34 homes on steep slopes and erodible soils just above Hayden Lake – not far from where East Hayden Lake Road washed out in the recent spring rains.

The Commissioners wrestled with the fact that they thought some development could occur at the site, but not to the extent that was proposed, and the proposal was not in accordance with badly-drafted development rules. Commissioners Dan Green and Jai Nelson voted to deny the subdivision request on the grounds that it did not avoid steep slopes, “did not contribute to the orderly development” of the community, “did not create lots of reasonable utility and livability,” and it would have imposed “an unreasonable burden” on future lot owners. Nelson was further concerned about potential stormwater and soil stability impacts on Hayden Lake. Commissioner Todd Tondee disagreed, and thought that the subdivision complied with the requirements and could be engineered to accommodate the slopes and soils and difficult drainage.

In particular, one procedural step in a problematic section of the development code became one focus for the Commissioners frustration:

Section 10-4-5: CONSERVATION DESIGN PROCEDURE: 

Conservation subdivisions shall be designed according to the following procedure: …

…Step Three:  Determine zoning districts and expected numbers of base and bonus lots.  Select building sites positioned to avoid slopes in excess of 15% and to take advantage of views and green space.  Note:  Though building sites should be designed to avoid slopes, this is a recommendation, not a requirement.   … (italics in original)

The Commissioners lamented that “shall be designed … to avoid slopes in excess of 15%” seems pretty clear and that the proposed subdivision design could clearly not comply — all of the lots on slopes steeper than 15%, and much of the development was proposed on slopes as steep as 35%.

But, the Commissioners struggled with the County Code’s “Note” making it a “recommendation, not a requirement.”  If it’s not a requirement, what is the proper standard to apply?  Ultimately, the Commissioners took the law’s “recommendation” and determined that the subdivision was simply requesting too much on land too steep.

This is obviously the correct decision. Otherwise, the bizarre “recommendation, not a requirement” language would have effectively negated the ordinance entirely, and thus defeated its clear purpose to restrict development on steep slopes. But again, it points out the desperate need for a new development code in Kootenai County — a process just now getting underway.

 

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Our Friends at Friends of the Clearwater give us the update:

The Idaho Transportation Department has issued (2) permits for Exxon/Imperial Oil mega-loads to travel north on US 95 and will be escorted by two Idaho State Police officers, two pilot cars, and three flagging/signing crews. The loads cannot exceed 30mph and are required to pull over every 15 minutes to relieve traffic. Permits go into effect on Monday June 27th.

The first mega-load to travel north from the Port of Lewiston will be 208 feet long, 23 feet wide, 13.5 feet tall and weigh over 400,000 lbs. It is permitted to travel between 10:00pm – 5:30am. Cost for the permit was $317.00. The second mega-load is 14 feet wide and other dimensions are not known. It will however be permitted to travel during day-light hours. Cost for the second permit was $28.00.

Meanwhile, the editors of the Coeur d’Alene Press say, and we quote: “Let the trucks roll.”

As we commented at the Press’s website: We’re no fans of the Alberta tar sands project, but we’re under no illusions that we’ll stop it here in Coeur d’Alene at the intersection at Walnut Ave. But the Press misses the point here. There WERE problems on Highway 12 — with delays up to an hour and power knocked out to rural areas. ITD issues permits but there are no consequences for non-compliance. The Press says “If problems do surface, the state can prevent future trips.” but I don’t think anyone really believes that. It certainly hasn’t happened yet.

It’s not the 15 minute delay that we’re worried about, but the hour delay that happens anyway. It’s not waiting in traffic behind a load at 2:13 am, but trying to sleep in the neighborhood where the traffic gets backed up at 2:13 am practically every night this summer with two Idaho State Police officers, two pilot cars, and three flagging/signing crews.

These are significant intrusions and should be given more scrutiny than a rubber stamp on a $317 permit.

 

 

 

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Every decade, the national one-person-one-vote principle needs to be geographically rebalanced. This summer, Idaho will begin redrawing state legislative and Congressional districts to account for migration in and out and around the state.  As one of the fastest growing states, Idaho has more migration to manage. But as one of the more enlightened states when it comes to redistricting, Idaho uses a bipartisan commission to draw district lines, rather than some more baldly political processes used in other states.

The Redistricting Commission is charged with drawing district lines that are reasonably compact, respect city and county political boundaries, respect logical geographic and natural boundaries, and respects the law.  As a bipartisan Commission, it will also need to avoid gerrymandering  and stacking the deck in favor of any particular party or incumbent.  It won’t be easy. (The Redistricting Commission has provided census data and mapping software on its website if you want to give it a try yourself.)

New lines for Congressional districts are not likely to affect north Idaho, as the entire panhandle is expected to remain in the 1st Congressional district. However, new lines in legislative districts are likely to shift significantly. Census data shows a significant migration away from rural areas and into more urban and suburban areas.  Kootenai County and the Rathdrum Prairie cities kept pace with Idaho’s overall growth, but Shoshone and Clearwater Counties lost residents and Boundary, Bonner and Benewah counties grew at a somewhat slower rate than the rest of the state. The result is that the more rural panhandle — consisting of Districts 1 through 8 — has lost about half of a legislative district.

To rebalance, lines in District 1 need to shift south into District 2. But District 2 needs to grow significantly to make up for the population lost. Eventually, somewhere, an incumbent is likely to be squeezed out of his or her current district and into another one.

We don’t have a particular dog in the fight.  But we do understand what an important fight it is.

The Commission will be holding hearings throughout the state, and hearings in North Idaho are scheduled for this Wednesday. (Sandpoint from 2-4 pm at the Sandpoint High School Auditorium, Coeur d’Alene’s from 7-9 pm at Meyers Health and Sciences Building at NIC.)

 

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Led by Kootenai Environmental Alliance, regional conservation groups filed comments June 10th with the Idaho Water Resources Board on the draft Comprehensive Aquifer Management Plan for our local Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer.   According to the comments, the plan is “not specific enough, not enforceable enough, and doesn’t go far enough to properly protect the aquifer resources.” The comments expressed concern that the plan would prove to be insufficient to protect the aquifer over the plan’s long-term planning horizon.  KEA was joined by Spokane Riverkeeper, Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper and the Lands Council in comments to the Water Board.

The Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer is the sole source of drinking water to more than a half-million people in the corridor from Coeur d’Alene to Spokane.  A unique and valuable resource, it is a plentiful water supply but it is not infinite. Pressures on the resource are already being felt as cool clean water from the aquifer returns to the Spokane River in ever-decreasing amounts.

The draft CAMP, under development for a year by an advisory committee appointed by the Water Board, has express goals to:  (1) Provide reliable sources of water, projecting 50 years in to the future, (2) Develop strategies to avoid conflicts over water resources, (3) Prioritize future state investments in water, and (4) Bridge the gaps between future water needs and supply.  The conservation community’s comments agreed with the goals, but were critical of the CAMP’s lack of specifics in meeting these goals.

The comments (available here) criticized the draft CAMP’s lack of specific measures for water conservation, lack of specific language limiting water exports from the aquifer to other basins, and lack of specific language about water quality protections of our sole-source aquifer.

In addition, the comments were sharply critical of the CAMP’s blithe acceptance of “artificial recharge” as a potential solution to demand pressures on the aquifer. A proposal to recharge the aquifer with Lake Pend Oreille water using a $90 million pipeline and injection scheme has already been floated.  The conservationists commented:

Artificial recharge projects should not be a substitute for proper aquifer management, development regulations, and water conservation programs and requirements. Again, we believe, at the very least, the CAMP should be specific about circumstances, triggers, standards, legalities, and limitations for such projects. The CAMP should make it clear that major artificial recharge projects should be a last resort, and should be considered only as a temporary, emergency, short-term solution after all other efforts have failed.

The CAMP advisory group meets in Coeur d’Alene this week to review and consider comments.

 

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Announced Monday and likely to be approved by a federal court in the next month or two, Hecla Mining and the U.S. EPA have settled longstanding Superfund litigation. The settlement establishes Hecla’s contribution toward the costs of the Coeur d’Alene basin minewaste cleanup. According to news reports, Hecla has agreed to pay some $263 million toward the cleanup which is estimated to ultimately cost more than $2 billion.

Although the accounting and apportionment of the funds will be complex, Hecla’s settlement will essentially be added to previous settlements – particularly the ASARCO settlement for some $452 million announced last year – to fund the bulk of the outstanding cleanup effort from this point forward.

With each flood season, historic mine wastes continue to contaminate some 160 miles of shoreline and riverbank in the Coeur d’Alene basin with heavy metal pollution. As a result, the basin constitutes one of the largest and most expensive Superfund cleanups in the U.S. The metals, which are at levels above federal health-based cleanup standards, are a danger to both humans who live and play in the region, as well as fish and wildlife that live there. For example, annually, some 150 tundra swans die from lead poisoning related causes during their migration stopover.

Prior to this settlement, Hecla had been a fierce opponent to EPA’s plans for a comprehensive cleanup plan for the upper Coeur d’Alene basin. Those plans, rolled out to the public last summer, are expected to be finalized soon. Now that Hecla has settled its obligations to the cleanup, and has reportedly achieved some level of protection for its ongoing mining operations, its vocal opposition to the cleanup should quiet.

Indeed, with the litigation largely resolved, the financing largely settled, and with the cleanup plans for the upper basin to be approved soon, the Coeur d’Alene basin cleanup may be entering a new era. Collaboration and cooperation should be much more prevalent as the cleanup continues from the upper reaches of the Coeur d’Alene basin down to the Coeur d’Alene Lake.

In fact, planning for the lower basin cleanup is just now getting underway. Along those lines, a more formal collaborative effort is in the early stages of being formed to engage stakeholders in designing the lower basin cleanup work. The cleanup of the waterways and shorelines between Cataldo and Harrison will be complex and expensive. Indeed, some approaches could still be quite controversial. However, without the specter of ongoing litigation, the cleanup should proceed less acrimoniously. We certainly look forward to getting on with it.

 

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