Archive for the ‘Coeur d'Alene Lake’ Category

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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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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From KEA’s conservation advocate Adrienne Cronebaugh:

Last summer, Idaho Department of Lands granted Kootenai County an encroachment permit to install mooring buoys inside Cougar Bay and no-wake zone buoys at the mouth of the bay. The installation of those mooring buoys had been of great concern to the residents of Cougar Bay as well as the many individuals in the community that visit the bay for quiet recreation and wildlife viewing.

After listening to community concerns, Kootenai County Parks and Waterways agreed not to install mooring buoys in Cougar Bay and instead will begin looking for a more appropriate mooring location that can better serve the needs of the motorized boater. Meanwhile, Parks and Waterways will install the less controversial buoys to delineate the no-wake zone at the beginning of the Summer 2011 boating season.

Parks and Waterways Director Nick Snyder explained that, “The buoys are needed to caution motorized boaters, and to better define the line so that it can be legally enforced.” In support of Parks and Waterways, and to help protect the quiet and non-motorized recreation and wildlife values in the Bay, we’ve agreed to help raise a portion of the funds to install the no-wake zone buoys. (Please contact the office or click on the donate button below to contribute to this effort!)

Meanwhile, as for the pilings in Cougar Bay, it seems they will remain for now.

Back in October, the Cougar Bay Osprey Association had filed suit to force Idaho Department of Lands to accept their application for a permit to protect the pilings. IDL, meanwhile, had transferred the responsibility for the pilings to Kootenai County. However, recently, the Association settled the lawsuit so that IDL would, if necessary, take the Osprey Association application.

At this point, with Parks and Waterways on board, it looks as if it may be possible to protect the existing pilings without more hearings. We are currently working with Parks and Waterways and the Osprey Association to finalize the details on just how the preserved pilings will be maintained. We are also hoping to help Parks and Waterways raise grant money and in-kind donations for dealing with any hazard pilings and for future piling protection efforts.

We’re pleased that Parks and Waterways listened and responded to our concerns. Indeed, special thanks should go to Director Nick Snyder for working through the details with us. We look forward to future collaboration with both Kootenai County and Idaho Department of Lands in preserving Cougar Bay for wildlife habitat and quiet recreation.

Mostly, though, thanks to all of you that attended hearings, came to meetings, contributed money, wrote letters, and sent emails.  Together we do make a difference! Stay tuned for details on a celebration this summer.



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In our line of work, we often need to remind ourselves that not everyone knows what we’re talking about. When we advocate for cleanup of the Coeur d’Alene basin, for example, we sometimes forget that not everyone knows that it’s a big mess.

Recently, the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and Idaho’s DEQ did a survey of what people know – and don’t know – about the Lake and its environmental problems. At noon on Thursday at the Iron Horse, Rebecca Stevens from the Coeur d’Alene Tribe and Becki Witherow from DEQ will discuss the study.

We’ve seen a preview of presentation, and the results are fascinating. Most area residents know that the lake is indeed cleaner than it was in the 70s, but few understood that mining wastes remain a problem and few knew that metals are still entering the lake. Residents were generally aware of bank erosion problems from boat wakes, and they were generally aware that growth and development are related to water quality. But there was limited understanding in the general public about the Lake Management Plan and the details of the Coeur d’Alene basin cleanup. There was very little understanding of the roles of different agencies involved in the Lake’s water quality efforts. A good percentage, though, thought mandatory measures were appropriate to protect water quality.

So, in other words, our work is still cut out for us.



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Late last week, we were forwarded an email from Greg Clark with the U.S. Geological Survey, whose team did some water monitoring during the flood event January 18th of this year. The monitoring in Harrison, where the Coeur d’Alene River flows into Coeur d’Alene Lake, shows that the conveyor belt of contamination from the upper basin to the lower basin was particularly bad during the flood this year.

According to Clark’s email, a measurement of the concentration of lead in the water at Harrison was the second highest ever recorded, the highest being a major flood in 1996. Also, the sample had the highest concentration of zinc and highest concentration of cadmium in more than 20 years. Clark said, “Based on these numbers, the load of lead delivered to the lake on January 18 alone was about 160 metric tons, or about 75% of the mean annual load of lead delivered to the lake during 2004 through 2009.” (Our emphasis.) However, Clark noted that sampling at the Lake’s outlet on January 20 was low, indicating that most of the lead settled to the lake bottom.

More disturbingly, however, is the measurement of flooding right before the peak. According to Clark, the river flow at Cataldo was higher than what was measured at the peak of the 2008 flood, but river the flow at Harrison was quite a bit lower. Clark says that this flow data indicates that a great deal of the water — and its accompanying sediment and metal contamination — was dumped into the lateral lakes along the lower basin. As Clark somewhat understated it in the email: “Obviously not good news as far as wildlife is concerned.”

Aerial photo of Coeur d'Alene River flooding at Harrison in 2008

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We’ve invited Nick Snyder, Director of Kootenai County Parks & Waterways to join us at our regular meeting at the Iron Horse Restaurant (Noon on Thursday, January 6th) to talk about the Spokane River / Cougar Bay piling removal project.

Cougar Bay and Spokane River watchers will have noticed that the pilings along the Spokane River and outside the mouth of Cougar Bay have vanished. This past summer the Idaho Department of Lands granted Kootenai County the authority to remove all hazardous log pilings and booms from the Spokane River and Lake Coeur d’Alene. The County made quick work of removing a lot of pilings this fall. Also, last summer, an encroachment permit was approved by the Department of Lands authorizing Kootenai County Parks and Waterways to install fifteen buoys to designate Cougar Bay as a “no-wake” zone and three mooring buoys within that zone. Meanwhile, a lawsuit brought by the Osprey Association is pending regarding the Department of Lands denial of their permit application to preserve the pilings.

So what’s next?  This meeting, we think, will be a great opportunity to discuss these and other issues relating to Cougar Bay with the person who currently has the power to make things happen. Or make things not happen, as we might prefer.

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Although things have been quiet recently on the Save Cougar Bay battlefront, new shots were fired yesterday by the Cougar Bay Osprey Protective Association, which filed a lawsuit challenging the Idaho Department of Lands’ rejection of their application to protect the pilings and booms in Cougar Bay. Having been rejected twice by the Department, without so much as a hearing, the Osprey Association filed a “Petition for Writ of Mandate” to have the Court order that IDL accept the application and hold a hearing.

A most unlikely pair of attorneys — Scott Reed and John Magnuson, who are usually on the opposite sides of land use and waterways cases — filed the case late Thursday afternoon on behalf of the Osprey Association.

The petition describes the attempts by the Osprey Association to bring their application for a hearing only to be arbitrarily and somewhat absurdly rejected by IDL. The petition says:

The basis for the rejection of the permit application by respondents and their attorney was the determination that only a government agency is empowered to improve waterways for wildlife habitat and other non recreational uses by members of the public. This interpretation would prohibit other non-profit organizations such as the Idaho Nature Conservency, Ducks Unlimited and the Coeur d’Alene Lakeshore Property Owners Association from seeking to improve waterways for navigational, wildlife habitat or other recreational uses …

The afore-described duties [to accept the application and hold a hearing] incumbent upon [IDL] constitute plain official duties and require no exercise of discretion. [IDL] had no legal right to reject the non-commercial encroachment permit application

The petition points out that “Cougar Bay represents only 1.3 percent (417 surface acres) of the lake where kayaks and smaller water craft can safely enjoy the quiet scenery without risk of being swamped or overrun by larger faster water craft.”

The petition goes into some detail concerning the benefits to recreation and habitat inherent in protecting the pilings and booms. And the petition notes that a great deal of public, private, and non-profit investment has permanently preserved much of the shoreline. The application, the petition says, is consistent with Idaho’s Public Trust Doctrine.

It will be interesting to see what this legal wrinkle does to the recent agreement between Kootenai County and IDL over piling removal.

We remain convinced that Cougar Bay is an extraordinary place, deserving of much more protection than currently exists. The pilings and booms are a remarkable historic and wildlife and recreational resource, but they are, perhaps, the last line of defense. Good luck to the Osprey Association and its lawyers. And stay tuned.


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We were a little taken aback this week, with the done-deal announcement that the Idaho Department of Lands and Kootenai County have entered an agreement that the County will now be responsible for the removal of hazardous pilings and booms in the Spokane River and Coeur d’Alene Lake.  The agreement, signed without public input, and at an August 31 meeting of the County Commissioners without any evidence of public notice, seems designed to undercut the efforts by the Osprey Association to preserve the booms and pilings in Cougar Bay.

We understand that the plans to remove pilings from the Spokane River have been in the works for quite some time. However, the inclusion of Coeur d’Alene Lake in this agreement appears to be a new development. Indeed, we’ve been unable to determine how and when this decision by the Commissioners got made.

The agreement was signed by Rick Currie for the County Commissioners on August 31, and it was signed by Mike Denney from the Department of Lands on August 17. Recall that IDL rejected the Osprey Association application at the end of July, and sent its explanatory letter to attorney Scott Reed dated August 12 with no mention of any negotiations with the County.

The agreement itself is broad, vague, and as typical in Idaho, unfunded. The stated purpose of the agreement is “to allow the County to remove pilings and booms they deem hazardous to navigation in the Spokane River and Lake Coeur d’Alene and to enhance public education about navigation.”  Yet the agreement is explicit that “this agreement does not obligate either party to expend funds.”

According to the oddly-worded agreement, the county shall, among other things, “Remove the pilings they deem appropriate at their expense. Appropriateness shall be based on feasibility as well as economic viability.”

Meanwhile, the State is obligated only to “assist the county in locating owners of pilings to be removed” and to provide information to the County to create informational brochures about piling removal.

It appears that with this agreement, the Idaho Department of Lands has abdicated its responsibility for Cougar Bay booms and pilings to the County, which has neither the expertise nor process to make such decisions. More critically, the path forward for the Osprey Association is less clear. Now, with the County as the contractual “appropriateness” decision-maker for pilings and booms in the Lake, renewal of its application to IDL to preserve the pilings will likely face another layer of bureaucratic nay-saying.

KEA has made a Public Records Act request to the County for documents and correspondence relating to this agreement and to the Cougar Bay pilings, and we hope to learn more about how this decision was reached. Regardless, it appears that the Kootenai County Commissioners are now key to the future of Cougar Bay.

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Intern Trevor Frank reviews the non-water quiet recreation at Cougar Bay:

Just minutes from downtown Coeur d’Alene, The Nature Conservancy’s Cougar Bay Preserve is a great place to view wildlife.  The 88 protected acres contain more than 5 miles of trail networks for enjoyment by the public, while the bay and creek accommodate kayaks, canoes, and fishermen.  The Bay’s upland has been protected as a wildlife sanctuary for more than ten years and has been kept open for the public.

The wildlife reserve is popular among hikers, kayakers, canoeists, and fishermen due to its serenity so close to town and its huge variety of wildlife.  The towering forests and lush meadows on display attract migrating and nesting waterfowl, numerous shorebirds, songbirds, moose, beaver, otter, and deer.

There are more than five miles of intersecting hiking trails to enjoy in the Preserve.  Signs supplement the hiking trails with information about the local birds, trees, and science.  Although no trails run immediately along the shoreline due to the waterfront’s marshy wetland characteristics, there are beautiful views of the Lake from the trails above and a launch site for canoes and kayaks.  The trails, intended solely for hiking, are closed to pack animals, like horses, and all vehicles, including bicycles.

Hikers generally agree that while the trails are mostly easy, they are not generally well maintained, which can make them slightly more challenging.  Some trails on the east side of the Preserve are particularly easy to lose.  There is also some elevation change, depending on where you choose to explore.  However, many enjoy the authentic feeling that comes with light use and low trail maintenance, and bearings are relatively easy to establish and maintain with Highway 95 and the bay itself always close by.  As you’re setting out from the trailhead – 2 miles south of Coeur d’Alene off of Highway 95 – the trails that go to the right are generally better maintained, but they offer fewer views of the Lake, which lies to the hiker’s left.

The bird population is particularly diverse.  Cougar Bay’s wetlands are occupied by various species of waterfowl while the forests above the Bay are home to numerous songbirds.  In all, well over 100 bird species have been identified in the area, including at least 28 protected “rare” bird species.

Cougar Bay is also a great place to kayak year round and is readily accessible from sportsman access on the northwest shore off Highway 95, the North Idaho College beach, and Blackwell Island public boat launch.  One can kayak throughout the Bay and up Cougar Creek to the small bridge in the park, which can also serve as another launching point.  Other uses include canoeing, fishing, and hunting.

However, the integrity of Cougar Bay’s shoreline habitat, which is home to much of the wildlife, is threatened by the proposed removal of the log pilings and booms in Cougar Bay. The pilings and booms serve as an unavoidable reminder of the no-wake zone, a physical barrier to reduce wave disturbances, and a deterrent to high-impact use.  Without them, if adequate steps aren’t taken to preserve the waterfront, increased noise and wake disturbances could greatly reduce not only the quiet peacefulness of the Bay, but also the amount of wildlife present, permanently degrading the Bay itself and its surrounding wildlife preserve.

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We got word last night that the City of Harrison, a town of fewer than 300 people, will be annexing the Powderhorn peninsula for a development of more than 1000 homes. Seemingly hell-bent on their own destruction, the Harrison City Council voted 4 to 1 in favor of the annexation. The unprecedented annexation will connect across the open waters of the Coeur d’Alene River where it meets with the Lake.

The massive development will take place along scenic Highway 97, a busy and curving and narrow two lane road. It will take place on a dry peninsula, and will require water to be drawn from the City’s water system. The proposal ran into a headwind in Kootenai County as inconsistent with the comprehensive plan and the rural character of the area. The annexation by Harrison is an end run around the County’s approval process.

Because the Coeur d’Alene Tribe has claim to the lakebed, across which the annexation would occur, the Harrison City Council agreed to a deal which satisfied the Tribal interests. In essence, Harrison agreed to relinquish control over a disputed extension of the municipal boundary in 1983, in exchange for the Tribe’s consent to the annexation. (Map shown above.)

It still isn’t at all clear that the annexation is legal. There’s a very real question as to whether the jump across open water maintains the necessary contiguity for an annexation of the type requested by the developer.  Along with the procedures used for this type of annexation, the whole thing is likely to end up in Court.

Legal technicality notwithstanding, the annexation is a stunning example of dumb growth. Here, a small town has essentially annexed itself out of existence. Control over Harrison’s future will no longer be held by the current townsfolk, but rather the influx of residents to the unconnected other side of the river. Water decisions, sewer decisions, road decisions will eventually be made to service the sprawling golf course development on the peninsula, not the charming small town by the Lake.

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