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Archive for November, 2011

With the generous assistance of our local Congressman, the dike road tree petitions are on their way to Washington DC. This morning, Adrienne and I delivered the stack of signatures to Rep. Raul Labrador’s Coeur d’Alene office. The Congerssman’s staff says they will take it from here.

Our petition is directed at Hon. Jo-Ellen Darcy, the U.S. Army Assistant Secretary for Civil Works, whose office is in the Pentagon. We’re asking her to reconsider the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ policy that may require the City of Coeur d’Alene to remove all the trees from the earthen levee separating the beach from North Idaho College.  It says simply:

“We, the undersigned, object to the levee vegetation policy as currently implemented by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which would result in the removal of hundreds of trees along the Rosenberry Drive levee embankment in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. The trees are not a danger to flood control, and they provide the city with significant and irreplaceable environmental, aesthetic, and recreational values. We urge you to reconsider the policy so that we may preserve our trees.”

Our final tally came in at just over 4400 signatures, which is a remarkable total for our small North Idaho community. Although we had a handful of out-of-town signers, most were from the immediate area, with the vast majority from Coeur d’Alene.

Congressman Labrador’s office assures us that the stack of signatures will land on Secretary Darcy’s desk in the very near future, and the Congressman’s great staff will keep us informed of the progress. Thanks to everyone who signed the petition, and special thanks to Rep. Labrador for being sure it will be delivered.

 

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Holidays are not slowing the rightward march of the Bonner County Property Rights Council. Monday night, the controversial Property Rights Council is sponsoring a “public seminar” on “The Theoretical Basis for a Property Rights Council.” The featured speaker is Sandpoint-based James L. Payne. Mr. Payne is a frequent contributor to the polluter-friendly and Koch-connected Independent Institute and the Foundation for Economic Education. It is unclear how this seminar got officially scheduled — the PRC meeting scheduled for last week was cancelled and prior meetings made no mention of the seminar.

Mr. Payne’s anti-government views are not exactly mainstream.  For example, he is critical of government spending, sure. But he’s even opposed to FEMA and government-supported disaster aid. (“The private sector can and does address all of these issues.”)  He is sharply critical of environmental regulations, sure.  But he’s opposed to regulations designed to prevent major environmental “catastrophes” like the gulf oil spill.  Instead, Payne concludes, “In the final analysis, overcoming environmental abuse is not likely to be achieved by governmental dictation. Instead, it is a process of social learning that includes everyone: friends and neighbors, reporters, pamphleteers, teachers, researchers—and companies too, as they discover how pollution hurts their image and their bottom line.”  Yeah. That’ll work.

Meanwhile, check out yet another article exposing the Bonner County Property Rights Council. This one from Boise Weekly.

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The one thing we know all too well in our small office, we can’t do what we do without community support. And we have a remarkable community we have in North Idaho. This Thanksgiving holiday, we’d like to point out some of the ways that people have come together this year to make our great region even greater.

With an outpouring of support from paddlers, anglers, and local residents, we were successful in securing more permanent protection of Cougar Bay on Coeur d’Alene Lake for wildlife and quiet recreation. Community members and KEA pitched in with Kootenai County Parks and Waterways to better delineate a no-wake zone across the bay while protecting many of the historic pilings for osprey habitat.

KEA and community members rallied – as we always do – to protect Tubbs Hill from unnecessary intrusion, but we also worked cooperatively to create new opportunities for wheelchair access to Coeur d’Alene’s amazing natural amenity. Currently, KEA is working with literally thousands of local residents who want to protect the trees along the dike road and who oppose the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers decision calling for their removal.

This past summer, community members joined us at KEA in launching the region’s first “floating treatment wetland” in a pond above Hayden Lake in a demonstration pilot project to restore water quality. If our water monitoring shows success, these wetlands may be employed along docks and shorelines to help clean up Lakes and other waters throughout North Idaho.

Beyond traditional conservation and restoration, our volunteer-fueled Community Roots local food program just completed another great growing season. Thousands of pounds of local fresh food from backyard gardeners and local farms were distributed to food assistance facilities throughout Coeur d’Alene through our Local Food Share program. A good portion of the shared food was harvested in the Shared Harvest Community Garden at 10th and Foster, which completed its third successful volunteer summer. And our unique Roots CSA completed another successful year in Dalton Gardens, helping to make community supported agriculture subscriptions available to low-income members of our community.

We point all of this success out to make a broader point. There will always be lakes and waterways to clean up, landscapes and resources to be protected and, unfortunately, people in our community who will be hungry.  In that sense, our work is ongoing and endless. But what makes it most rewarding for us at KEA is our community’s capacity for making things better.  With every year, with every project, and with every challenge, people in North Idaho step up and help out. Ours is a great community. And for this, this Thanksgiving, we give our sincere thanks.

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In the portion of its website labeled “Media Reports Including Errors and Omissions,” the Bonner County Property Rights Council cites a flattering statement from the “National Association of Rural Land Owners.”

“Bonner County, ID is serious about protecting Property Rights. Every County and City in America can learn from this new, innovative approach to protecting property rights. They are just getting started but they have the right idea!”

High praise indeed. But who is this impressive National Association? The organization is not listed as a charity with the IRS and is evidently too small to be required to register as a charity with the State of Washington. Indeed, it appears to be simply one of several websites for the right-wing ranting of a single individual in western Washington.

Meanwhile, not listed in the PRC’s media clippings is a superb article from Trish Gannon at the River Journal. For anyone interested in the Bonner County Property Rights Council, we suggest starting with the River Journal article before taking the recommendation of an ideologue from Issaquah.

UPDATE 11/26/11: The “Media Reports” portion of the PRC website is no longer available from the PRC’s homepage, but the link above still works.

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KEA obtained a press release announcing that California’s Department of Fish and Game will be joining a lawsuit brought by environmental groups fighting the Corps of Engineers’ policy requiring vegetation removal from levees. The lawsuit alleges that the Corps failed to perform a proper NEPA analysis on the levee vegetation policy and that the policy violates the Endangered Species Act.

Coeur d’Alene’s problem is horrible, but California’s may be worse — requiring miles and miles of tree removal and habitat destruction at a $7.5 billion price tag. Having a state agency involved in the litigation puts significant additional pressure on the Corps. KEA is currently reviewing the filings in the lawsuit for possible application to Coeur d’Alene’s dike road trees.

The California Department of Fish and Game press release dated November 9th:

The California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) today commenced the process to join federal litigation that challenges the removal of vegetation on levees. 

The case, Friends of the River, et. al. v. United States Army Corps of Engineers, et. al. was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California. It essentially challenges the Army Corps of Engineers’ (Corps) adoption of a national policy that requires removing virtually all trees and shrubs on federal levees. 

DFG, along with many other local, state and federal agencies, has been in discussion with the Corps about this policy for several years, said DFG Director Charlton H. Bonham. Its unfortunate that the discussions havent led to a more agreeable outcome, but if adhered to, the policy will do incredible damage to Californias remaining riparian and adjacent riverine ecosystem, especially in the Central Valley.

Roundtable discussions on the policy have included the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), Central Valley Flood Protection Board, National Marine Fisheries Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. DWR and DFG have repeatedly expressed concerns about the policy in letters to the Corps. The policy has also received pushback from farmers and other water users.

The Central Valley is home to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Flood Management System. This flood protection system has approximately 1,600 miles of federal project levees along the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and tributaries. This policy would require removing most of the remaining five percent of riparian forest there.

Riparian habitat is essential for several endangered species including Chinook salmon, Central Valley steelhead, Valley elderberry longhorn beetle, riparian brush rabbit, Western yellow-billed cuckoo and Swainson’s hawk. Moreover, the riparian habitat provides scenic beauty and recreational enjoyment for people up and down the river.

The policy adopted by the Corps fails to comply with either the National Environmental Policy Act or the federal Endangered Species Act.

Historically, the Corps has allowed and even encouraged the planting of trees and other vegetation on California levees. They have even collaborated with state and federal agencies in developing levee design approaches intended to benefit federal- and state-listed threatened and endangered species. The new policy directly conflicts with their past actions.

DFG and DWR estimate that complying with the Corps’ policy could cost up to $7.5 billion and divert funds away from more significant levee deficiencies like seepage and erosion.

DFG seeks to join current plaintiffs in the case including Friends of the River, Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity.

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A great deal of our conservation work in North Idaho depends on attending long boring meetings. We know that people have actual lives, and that going to long boring meetings is not something that most people enjoy. Unfortunately, though, that’s often where work gets done, deals get made, and progress can happen. That’s why we go.

On the other hand, there are a lot of meetings where nothing gets done, nothing happens, and progress is not even part of the mindset. The Bonner County Property Rights Council meeting on November 7th was one of those meetings.

Mercifully short by some local standards, the meeting was still a bit more than an hour of valuable time lost to pointless local bureaucracy. The Bonner County Property Rights Council is a controversial and ideological advisory group established by the County Commissioners to review property rights issues in the County.

On the Council’s substantive agenda were “reports” to be presented regarding their review of County’s watershed protection ordinance and regarding a property owner with a wetlands issue.  As it turns out, the Council’s report for both agenda items was that there was no report at all.

Instead, the Council spent most of its meeting time addressing deficiencies in its bylaws as directed by a recent letter from the Idaho Attorney General. Responding to the AG’s criticism, the Council agreed to place provisions in its bylaws to abide by Idaho law when it comes to public records and open meetings – laws that apply to the Council regardless what their bylaws might say. Also responding to the AG letter, the Council removed a problematic provision in their bylaws that required an oath to be faithful to “free market” and “property rights” principles in order to participate. Instead, participants must now “commit” to such principles. Whatever that means.

And finally, the Council magnanimously agreed to allow “all points of view” to be heard in public comment at Council meetings. But limited to three minutes per person. Because, heaven forbid, the Council wastes people’s time.

 

 

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The USFWS wetland inventory map. An arrow shows the bulldozed Sackett property.

It took all of 5 minutes to create the above map, using the US Fish and Wildlife Service wetlands mapper. Had the Sackett’s taken the time to to look into it before bulldozing their property and filling it with gravel, or had they made a call to the US Army Corps of Engineers for an advance wetland determination, they could have avoided the legal mess that they find themselves in. 

Indeed, it is so easy that since 2008, Bonner County has required this minimal wetlands reconnaissance prior to granting Building Location Permits.

This map is not the final word, because before EPA actions can be enforced by a court, experts will need to discuss, for example, whether the map is accurate, whether the soils are wetland soils, and whether the plants are wetland plants. Foremost, the EPA will need to prove that there is federal jurisdiction, by proving there is “a significant nexus” to “navigable water.”

Ultimately, the Sacketts could very well be right about the non-existence of wetlands on their property. Still, a modicum of due diligence should be a prerequisite for a Supreme Court case of Constitutional due process.  It takes very little effort to avoid EPA enforcement actions.

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