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Archive for August, 2011

Just as Kootenai County gets on with the long-overdue business of re-writing the dysfunctional land use codes, the chronic malcontents have indeed crawled out from under their rocks to wail about their property rights and to attempt to derail an important process. Unfortunately, their lack of concern for everyone else’s property rights illustrates how misguided they actually are.

In a hysterical email that was widely circulated, several local residents are stirring up opposition to the County code revision process. The email opens with:

“If you care about Freedom and Property Rights and you live in Kootenai County, WAKE UP!”

And in the Coeur d’Alene Press article about the controversy, local representative Kathy Sims is quoted as saying “We’ve got to be very, very careful we don’t lose our private property rights.”

The problem is that what I am allowed to do on my property needs to be balanced with the impacts I have on yours. Indeed, your property values are probably protected by reasonable restrictions on my property rights.

In fact, land use planning and land use codes are actually required by state law in Idaho. It is not an option for our County Commissioners. The fact that they are taking the job very seriously and inviting a broad spectrum input is healthy and wise.

The advisory committee formed by the Commissioners for the code-drafting process is heavily weighted toward the business and development community, with advisers representing builders, realtors, developers, planners, land use lawyers, the local Chambers of Commerce, and even the so-called Citizens for Balance – a group that fought hard for a slack comprehensive plan. These business representatives are well-equipped to defend property rights in the code-writing process.

But they also recognize that this process needs to be followed to completion. Property rights – both yours and mine – are better protected with clarity and certainty in our land use laws. The current patchwork of laws, many of which date back to the 1970s, are utterly unclear and hopelessly uncertain. We need to fix our codes, we are required by Idaho law to do it, we have a process underway, and constructive input will be very important. But hysterical claims of property rights violations are decidedly not helpful to anyone. Rep. Kathy Sims, in particular, should know better.

 

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Korrine Kreilkamp, our Community Roots founder, organizer, and local-food all-around all-star has been invited to the prestigious Patagonia Tools for Grassroots Activists Conference this fall at Lake Tahoe, Nevada. The invitation-only conference is an extraordinary training opportunity for young grassroots organizers from across the country, and we’re incredibly proud that Korrine got an invitation. Patagonia – the great outdoors retailer, wonderful corporate citizen, and a very generous supporter of KEA in past years – picks up the tab for training and room and board, but we need to get Korrine to Tahoe.

This, of course, is the kind of opportunity that we didn’t budget for but that is also way too good to pass up. So we need your help. We’d like to raise about $500 to pay for airfare, travel expenses, and have a little left over so that we can implement whatever Korrine learns on her trip. An anonymous donor has offered to donate the final $100 if we raise the other $400 on-line.

So, help us send Korrine to camp! Click on the button to donate $10, $25, $50, $100 or more (pay pal or credit cards accepted through pay pal) toward this great investment.

UPDATE: 8/29 4:00 pm:  A great response, but still a ways to go

UPDATE: 8/30 9:00 am: More than half way to meeting the match!

UPDATE: 9/1 9:00 am: We made the match! Thanks everyone!

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Just a quick note upon return from the mini-vacation, but if you haven’t seen this wonderful column by the wonderful Mary Lou Reed, it deserves a click and a few minutes of your time.  Our great friend, loyal member and KEA founder has captured the dike road trees issue perfectly for the Inlander’s readership:

As many as 500 trees growing along scenic Rosenberry Dike Road in Coeur d’Alene are on the chopping block. This threat sends shivers up and down the spines of the city’s residents. Everyone, including the mayor and members of the City Council, hates the idea.

The dike forms a crescent rim around North Idaho College. The trees provide a graceful curtain of shade between the campus grounds and Lake Coeur d’Alene, just as the current turns lake water into river water and heads downstream toward Spokane.

A few of the candidates for tree slaughter are over 100 feet tall and older than most folks alive today. Such giants are priceless and irreplaceable. We would mourn their loss for years to come.

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As the economic crisis in Europe gets closer to the brink of disaster, as the housing and mortgage mess shows no sign of resolution, as political gridlock messes with the country’s credit rating, this is what we get from leadership in Congress:

Which is, of course, nonsense.

Indeed, the rhetoric about EPA regulation from our Idaho representation is increasingly over the top. (Really, Senator Risch? The EPA is like the Gestapo?) We get that there are ideological differences. We are perfectly aware of the onslaught of anti-environment legislation being proposed in this Congress. We’d just prefer that the debate remain fact-based and on the merits, however.

 

 

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers demands the removal of hundreds of trees along a levee mainly because regulations require it.  Local government tells anguished citizens that there is no choice but to comply, otherwise there will be no relief funds in case of a flood. But, the Corps failed to account for the presence of endangered species. The Corps runs afoul of the Idaho Forest Practices Act. The Corps doesn’t have science to back up their decision-making.

Coeur d’Alene in 2011? Nope. St. Maries in 1997.

One advantage to being the oldest conservation organization in Idaho is that we’ve got some really old files. Indeed, the trees along Coeur d’Alene’s dike road are facing the very same threat from the Corps of Engineers that mature Cottonwood trees along the levees in St. Maries suffered in 1997. Unfortunately, in St. Maries, a lot of trees were lost.

With significant flooding in Benewah County in 1996, the Corps of Engineers took a hard look at the flood protection along the St. Joe River, and the vegetation on the levees came under scrutiny. Of course, the levees were not the weak link in the flood protection in 1996. And trees were not part of any levee failure. Nevertheless, under a federal economic development grant to improve the levees, trees were being cut by Benewah County under instructions by the Corps.

As the trees were coming down, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intervened, noting that bald eagle habitat was being eliminated. The Idaho Department of Lands intervened, noting that the tree cutting needed to comply with the Idaho Forest Practices Act.  The science was questioned. The Audubon Society (with local attorney Scott Reed) threatened a lawsuit.

Unfortunately though, much of the damage had been done. The “Shadowy St. Joe” lost a whole lot of its shade.  Ultimately, some trees were spared, some eagle habitat mitigated, but most of the trees were removed in the name of flood control.  Here’s hoping for a better outcome this time.

 

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Our many friends and neighbors on the east side of Coeur d’Alene Lake alerted us to the disturbing report that the venerable Camp Easton, a Boy Scout Camp for some 90 years, is in the process of being sold to a developer. Indeed, an offer from Discovery Land Company exists for the 383 acre camp, along with a “significant proposal that would fully fund building a brand new Boy Scout camp on a terrific piece of property on Lake Coeur d’Alene.” Discovery is the company behind the Gozzer developments.

It is unclear what the developer plans for the incredible lakefront property, but we’re pretty sure it doesn’t involve scouting. Local scout leaders are opposed to the deal. Local scout alumni are opposed to the deal. And local residents are opposed to the deal. But the lure of big money in a tough economic environment might be too attractive for the local Boy Scout administration.

This asset, we think, is far too valuable to liquidate. The location is one that, we think, will be difficult to duplicate. Turning the keys to the camp over to a developer would be tragic.  Consider contacting the Inland Northwest Council of the Boy Scouts of America with your concerns.

Check out this Boy Scout promo video about Camp Easton.

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Idaho’s tradition of fierce protection of private property rights is well known and well established. The State of Idaho has legislated layers and layers of protection for the wide majority of Idahoans who particularly value the rights that accompany the ownership of land. However, as the Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld – property rights are not absolute. The right to own property is not the same as the right to do whatever one wants.

Indeed, for nearly 100 years, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld land use regulations of property as a proper role for the government to protect the health and general welfare of the public. Indeed, zoning and other land use regulations have helped to define what it means to be a good neighbor in a particular community. In a perfect world, everyone would have perfect neighbors. However, courts have enforced land use regulation as real-world protection for real-world bad neighbors.

It is fundamental, for example, that ownership of a property does not give anyone the right to interfere with someone else’s use and enjoyment of their property. Ownership of a property does not give anyone the right to use more than their fair share of community resources or other resources held in common.

What I am allowed to do on my property, therefore, is properly balanced with the impacts I have on yours. Indeed, your property values are probably protected by reasonable restrictions on my property rights.

Laws and regulations are how a community achieves this balancing. In our community, where we hope to preserve a rural lifestyle in North Idaho, we should expect that our land use regulations would balance rural land uses more favorably than suburban sprawl. Similarly in our community, where our economy and quality of life so greatly depend on natural resources, we should expect that our regulations should balance resource protection more favorably than, for example, land uses that could lead to degradation of our beautiful lakes and drinking water supplies.

This regulatory balancing is intricate, difficult, and fraught with local complications. But despite the increasingly vocal complaints of the increasingly misinformed, this balancing is indeed legal, it is indeed constitutional, and it is indeed much more preferable than no regulation at all. Proper land use regulation is certainly important for environmental protection but it is also important to the growth of our community. Most critically, though, proper land use regulation is actually important to mutual protection of everyone’s property rights.

 

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BNSF and Kootenai County appear to have resolved differences over conditions of operation at the poorly located railroad refueling station over the Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer near Hauser. Recall that BNSF objected to tougher new conditions the County proposed last year, and ran immediately to the courthouse. Now, scheduled for a hearing before a hearing examiner September 1st, are a new set of conditions that BNSF appears to have agreed to.

Some changes in the new conditions were minor. For example, the County had originally asked that BNSF finance a position at DEQ for aquifer protection for as long as the facility is in operation. Now, under the revised conditions, BNSF would continue to provide funding for a DEQ staff position for a period of 10 years, but after 10 years, BNSF would continue funding at a level of $100,000 per year as long as the facility is in operation.

The main change between what was proposed last year and what will go to the hearing examiner this year appears to govern what happens when something goes horribly wrong. Originally the County had insisted that if a potential petroleum leak had penetrated two of the three layers of containment protection, the facility would need to cease operations immediately, and they could not resume until they were cleared to operate by DEQ.

Now, however, the proposed condition is much more lenient. The new proposed condition states that, for any release outside all of the containment areas:

the initial response to any release of petroleum products shall include immediate action to prevent further release of petroleum outside the containment areas, which may include ceasing operations at the facility in whole or in part, if so directed by DEQ … until the release has been stopped, at which point operations may be resumed.

In other words, BNSF does not stop operating until the leak has passed through all the layers of protection. Indeed, it still doesn’t stop operating until an agency shuts them down. And BNSF starts right back up once the leak is stopped, regardless of any cleanup that might be necessary.

Basically, we’re deeply concerned that this condition is far too loose to be fully preventative. We’ve only got one sole-source drinking water supply. We need to be much more protective than these new operating conditions would allow for this facility.

 

 

 

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Rosenberry Trees Petition

By popular demand: download a copy here, circulate it to friends and neighbors, and return it to us at KEA!

UPDATE: Here’s the online version. Link to it, email it, post it to your facebook friends!

 

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Intern Kayla  Baker reports on the excellent IdaH2O Master Water Steward program she attended last month. Programs like these (including forestry and master gardening) at the University of Idaho Extension could be threatened in the Kootenai County budget process.

The IdaH2O Master Water Steward Program, offered by the University of Idaho Extension, is only a year old but shows promise in educating North Idaho citizens about water quality monitoring. From my experience with the program, I believe that it is an excellent opportunity to immerse oneself in the health of our local water systems. In just a day, citizen volunteers learn how to assess streams and lakes on a number of bases: habitat (riparian and canopy cover, streambed substrate, human use, etc.), physical (water transparency, stream width and depth, stream velocity, etc.), chemical (water pH levels, dissolved oxygen levels, amount of nutrients such as nitrate and phosphorous), and biological (survey of present invertebrates).

The program’s lecture portion is to the point and is enlightening. I feel the most important thing one will learn from this seminar is how human use of water can impair water quality; for example, the overuse of fertilizers containing phosphorous or nitrate can lead to a lack of oxygen in the water, which is dangerous for the aquatic ecosystem as a whole. Following the lecture period, volunteers are given a hands-on experience to apply themselves in a local stream. This is important for program goers, as they are given the optional task of carrying out annual water monitoring on a stream of their choice, and are given all the tools required to carry out the monitoring. The IdaH2O program hopes that the data collected by their certified water stewards will someday help agencies institute standards for water quality in the area.

I was very fortunate to take part in the program due to my internship at the Kootenai Environmental Alliance. After taking a course in Environmental Science at North Idaho College, I find the IdaH2O program to be a great supplement in a hands-on and more personal way. Personally, my favorite aspect of the course was biological assessment, as I hope to become a wildlife biologist in the future. It is important to me to see that our water systems have an appropriate amount of biodiversity in order to keep a healthy balance of life, and it is essential that close attention is paid to organisms that serve as indicators of environmental health.

With what I have gained from this program, I hope to make a change as a student. I am currently forming a student environmental group at North Idaho College, and I am planning to start a water monitoring site and include student members in assessment. This will hopefully culminate in a campus-based campaign to raise awareness of how to keep our watershed healthy.

I am glad to have the opportunity to take this class, and I hope that many citizens will take a little time to discover how truly important water is, and hopefully to discover our true duty as stewards to our community and our planet.

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