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Archive for October, 2011

I felt bad for the boy scout dutifully selling popcorn at the Spokane Albertsons Saturday. It’s a tough job. He was sitting there with his father and what looked like his younger sister raising money for the scouts to go to camp. They were probably there for hours. Although, I’m sure the scout’s troop would put the hard-earned fundraising dollars to good use, I’m less sure about local scout leadership.

An offer by Discovery Land to swap the Boy Scout’s venerable Camp Easton on the eastern shore of Lake Coeur d’Alene for a property on the west shore at Windy Bay isn’t going so well. On the one hand, there’s a lawsuit claiming that disposal of the Camp Easton property would violate the original deeds donating the property to the Boy Scouts. On the other hand there’s a lawsuit against Discovery for failing to close the deal on the property it had intended to swap.

With lawsuits proliferating, it isn’t clear why the scout council just simply reject the wildly unpopular idea at this point. Inland Northwest Council Executive Tim McCandless was recently quoted, “There is no intention to make any decision until the Boy Scout board has what they feel is full information on all aspects of the proposal,”  What are they waiting for?

 

 

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With increasingly critical attention being paid to Bonner County’s new “Property Rights Council,” the Council is getting defensive. Although paying little attention to actually publishing timely meeting minutes and agendas, the Council has published a new link on its website dedicated to “Media Errors & Omissions.”

First, the Property Rights Council takes issue with a widely published AP story noting the hiring of tea party favorite Pam Stout to administer the new program. The “Media Errors & Omissions” posting notes:

Recent media reports have concluded that the Paralegal Program Manager is utilized exclusively and permanently for PRC work.  This is false. The Paralegal Program Manager is only temporarily being used exclusively for PRC work. This is especially necessary during the initial formation and establishment of the PRC.

Notably not in error is that the occupant of the “Paralegal Program Manager” position has no paralegal training.  Also, notably not in error is the salary of $25,000 for the new 19 hours-per-week position —  a salary well above the going rate in Idaho for trained paralegals.

Second, the Property Rights Council denies that particular programs are being targeted. “Media Errors and Omissions” states:

In an October 14th 2011 AP article, John Miller paraphrases Pam Stout when he states: “Their first tasks include figuring out how to jettison the historical society, extension agency and county fairgrounds from taxpayer support, Stout said”. Pam Stout denies making such a statement and no such item has been placed on the PRC Agenda.

Yet, the linked-to “correction” in the Sacramento Bee only clarifies:

The story also reported the council was attempting to remove taxpayer support from the county extension, the fairgrounds and the historical society. It is looking for ways to replace taxpayer support with user fees.

The fine-point about user fees notwithstanding, unfortunately what has been placed on the PRC agenda (pdf) is the County’s watershed ordinance and whether to “interpose” in an ongoing dispute between a property owner and the EPA (whatever that means). All this before the Council even has approved bylaws under which it will operate.

We are certainly very concerned about what the PRC means for the few environmental protections that currently exist in Bonner County. But we are also very concerned that this inept, one-sided, and ideologically-driven bureaucracy is taking Bonner County far out of the mainstream as to what constitutes good basic local government. From phone calls and emails to our office, a growing number of Bonner County citizens share our concerns. Indeed, instead of concerning itself with “Media Errors and Omissions,” Bonner County should re-evaluate the errors and omissions coming from their own PRC.

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We got the phone call the other day and an email confirmation yesterday, and we’re pleased to say that KEA will be represented on the City of Coeur d’Alene’s new ad hoc committee to deal with the dike road trees. An initial meeting will be scheduled for mid-November.

Recall that a Corps of Engineers inspection is calling for removal of the 500 mature trees along the levee between North Idaho College and the waterfront. KEA has initiated a petition drive calling on the Corps to review its levee vegetation policy as applied here in Coeur d’Alene.

Along with KEA, appointees to the committee include representatives from North Idaho College, the Centennial Trail, Fort Grounds homeowners, the 4-Counties Natural Resources Committee, Councilman John Bruning, and State Senator John Goedde. Other appointees include experts in hydrology, tree removal, and forestry.  The committee will work with City staff, including the City Engineer, the City Administrator and City’s Urban Forester.

Preliminarily, according to the email confirmation, the committee will be tasked with coming up to speed on the issues, helping to review alternatives, helping to gather information and resources, and helping to communicate with the public. We’re eager to get started.

Meanwhile, in other updates, our eyes and ears have noted city crews beginning work on unrelated flood control deficiencies noted by the Corps of Engineers in their inspection. Also, we continue to gather signatures on our petition. With more than 4000 signatures online and on paper, we are making one final push to 5000 before delivering the signatures in November.

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Well, it seems we’ve touched a nerve over at the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation. They are NOT pleased with our recent blog posting about the Priest Lake wetland case. Pacific Legal Foundation represents the Sacketts in their procedural fight with the EPA.

Of course, the “PLF Liberty Blog” doesn’t really take issue with our analysis. Mostly they are critical of our lack of outrage over the EPA’s use of their Clean Water Act authority. And they are critical of our emphasis on the procedural nuance lost in the broadly anti-EPA Fox News coverage.

So, to be fair we will officially admit it — we’re as ideologically-driven as they are.  But our outrage is more typically reserved for people who bulldoze wetlands without a permit.  As we wrote in our posting, the U.S. Supreme Court will tell us only how the wetland issue will get decided under the Clean Water Act.  Which is why we will reserve our outrage until a Court weighs the evidence on both sides.

 

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If you only read what is coming out of congressional offices and only watched Fox News, you’d certainly think that local heroes Mike and Chantelle Sackett from Priest Lake are about to go to the Supreme Court and bring down the whole EPA.  Finally, they say, the overreaching federal agency and their wetland tyranny will be shut down once and for all.

Instead, at most, it’ll clarify a difficult procedural point in the Clean Water Act. Indeed, the Sacketts could win their Supreme Court case and still end up with wetland enforcement on their property by EPA. It’s just a matter of how that enforcement gets done.

The Sacketts have challenged a structural legal problem in enforcement of the Clean Water Act. Fundamentally, the EPA says there are wetlands on the property, the Sacketts say there are no wetlands. The question at the Supreme Court is essentially how that dispute gets resolved. The Sacketts say they should get to affirmatively go to court to immediately decide it. The EPA, and the lower courts, say the actual language in the law does not allow such a court challenge. Instead the Clean Water Act suggests that Sacketts can get a permit or they can defend against an enforcement action in a court. It is a major case because a wide range of environmental and other federal statutes are structured similarly.

An imperfect but illustrative analogy is that a speeder is pulled over for going 70 mph in a 55 mph zone. The speeder points to a sign, directly in front of the cop, that says “Speed Limit 70.” The cop issues the ticket anyway. The traditional remedy is that you appeal the ticket in Court. The Sacketts, however, are essentially arguing that they should get to go to court to dispute the facts before the cop even issues the ticket.

The case does raise an interesting question of fairness and “due process” perhaps. The Sacketts argue that the EPA determining that there are wetlands on their property means they either need to get a permit, which can be expensive, or they can be appeal a wetland violation in court, which can also be expensive. However, in truth, due diligence by the landowner, along with competent and honest advice from lawyers and land development professionals, will almost always avoid these wetland problems. (Mike Sackett, an excavation contractor of all things, should know this.)

Instead, in this case, we have an ideologically driven lawsuit by the ideologically driven Pacific Legal Foundation which may or may not decide a fine point of Clean Water Act enforcement procedure. So, don’t believe the hype. To be completely clear, what is not in dispute in the Supreme Court case is:  wetlands are regulated; EPA and the Corps of Engineers have regulatory jurisdiction and authority; if you fill wetlands you need a permit; and if you fill wetlands without a permit you are violating the law and you are subject to enforcement. When you get your day in court is the only issue to be determined.

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Superfund cleanup isn’t limited to the Silver Valley. The Coeur d’Alene River, the chain lakes and wetlands from Cataldo to Harrison are contaminated with heavy metals from the last century of mining upstream. Every flood season, another layer of contamination is deposited throughout the drainage.

The EPA, charged with the cleanup responsibilities, is in the process of finalizing a controversial plan for the upper basin, but the next area slated for cleanup is the lower Coeur d’Alene River basin from Cataldo to Harrison.  In fact, EPA has begun initial studies on the ways contaminated sediment moves in the Coeur d’Alene River and lower basin waterways and wetlands. Based on the scientific and engineering studies, and as constrained by Superfund laws, EPA will develop a comprehensive cleanup plan for the lower basin over the course of the next several years.

KEA has been part of a small group meeting since May 2010 to develop a better way for citizens, stakeholders, and agencies to work together on cleanup in the Lower Basin.  We’ve created the Lower Basin Citizen Collaborative.

Why a Collaborative?

In a lower basin cleanup, there will be a wide range of interests and values to be weighed and considered: public health, wildlife protection, recreation, private property rights and land-use planning, watershed protection and restoration, cultural resources, job preservation and creation, economic development, and water quality and fisheries.  All of these will need to be weighed in a context that should include sufficient public education, meaningful public involvement, and science-based and evidence-based decision making by the agencies.

Collaboratives provide a way to address controversial natural resource issues, making sure everyone has a seat at the table. In many locations in the U.S., they are achieving broad citizen, stakeholder, and agency satisfaction. This collaborative model is currently used in Shoshone County and elsewhere in Idaho for forest and land management and collaboratives are now being used or proposed in other parts of the country for land management and complex environmental problems.

In our envisioning of the collaborative process for the lower basin, everyone is invited to engage early in the process. Competing interests work out consensus-based solutions together. Participants work for outcomes that meet or exceed federal and state regulations, and agencies shift their focus to connect with, rather than direct, the collaborative effort.  In theory, if stakeholders work together, cleanup decisions can be made with everyone’s interests considered. Rather than agency decisions being handed down unilaterally, collaboratives work toward outcomes that everyone feels they can live with.

Collaboratives can be controversial, they don’t always work, and they’re not always appropriate. However, this cleanup in the lower basin will be extremely complex and will have a significant impact on the landscape. In this instance, we believe local voices involved in the planning from the beginning will make for a better cleanup. And we believe a collaborative will be the best venue to engage the local voices.

Reaching Out

The Lower Basin Collaborative is ready to launch and we invite your participation. A kickoff meeting will be held next Tuesday, the 18th, 2:30 pm, at the Rose Lake Historical Society Building, 14917 S. Queen Street & Hwy. 3 in Cataldo.  If you want to know more or be involved at any level, let us hear from you. Write us at LowerBasinCollaborative@gmail.com.  Stay up to date at lowerbasincollaborative.wordpress.com.

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It’s been a week since Conoco-Phillips says they noticed a “drop in pressure” in their gasoline pipeline between Billings and Spokane. And we’re still waiting for an explanation.

Booms are in the Coeur d’Alene River. Workers in hard hats and pickup trucks are thick in the Enaville to Cataldo stretch of pipeline in question. Promises of testing and inspection and results have been issued, but we’re still waiting for results. Even if there’s no leak and the whole “loss of pressure” thing is some sort of unfortunate technological false alarm, it shouldn’t take a week to figure it out.

Lately, we’ve heard from several nearby residents now that cleanup workers and their “security” are hard-line and tight-lipped about what is happening along the possibly leaky pipeline. We understand that it must be frustrating to the company that it can’t find the problem, but it’s even more frustrating to the nearby public. Indeed, information has been lacking from the beginning. When did the company and responsible agencies plan to tell the public? KEA, from what we can tell, was first to break the news.

We’re certainly hoping that whatever the problem is, it isn’t catastrophic. Still, and regardless, this whole situation is not acceptable. Under no circumstance should it take a week to diagnose a gasoline pipeline problem.

 

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