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As the lame duck session of the U.S. Congress draws to a close, Idaho’s Senators threw some wild punches today and come away with nothing but embarrassment.

First, as the final debate of the START treaty got underway this afternoon, Senator Crapo brings up, of all things, the issue of wolves. From Washington Post reporter Felicia Sonmez:

Indeed, our Senator Crapo asked for unanimous consent to take up the issue, knowing full well that it was out of line and wouldn’t be granted, and then issued a press release decrying the lack of action on wolves.

Then there’s this exchange between Senator Risch and Senator Cardin on the START treaty, also reported  elegantly on twitter by CBS reporter Mark Knoller:

After first quipping that the plot of Mission Impossible IV will be the retrieval of these four Humvees by Tom Cruise, Knoller continues:

And the great deliberative body of the U.S. Senate gently sets aside our Senator’s Humvee issue and gets on with more pressing business:

Here’s hoping that 2011, and the 112th Congress, will bring better representation for our state.

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The inevitable lawsuit has been filed in Kootenai County District Court regarding the absurd annexation of the Powderhorn peninsula by the tiny city of Harrison. Recall that in September, Harrison, a city of 300 or so residents, moved to annex land across the open waters of the Coeur d’Alene River for a massive gated-community golf course development with more than 1300 homes. Two citizens groups filed suit last week asking a Court to review the complicated annexation.

The lawsuit asks the court to review a number of irregularities in the annexation, but the most interesting claim is perhaps the most obvious. Under the “Category A” annexation process invoked by the City, the properties to be annexed must be “contiguous” to the city limits. According to the lawsuit however, that’s simply not the case.

Setting aside the absurdity of the annexation of across unbridged open water, there are complicated jurisdictional concerns.  In 1983, over the objections of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, the City of Harrison extended its jurisdiction one quarter-mile across the surface of Lake Coeur d’Alene.  According to the City, the Powderhorn property is contiguous when this quarter-mile extension is stretched across the water. However, the lawsuit puts is plainly:

The city limits of the City of Harrison, even if including the 1/4 mile extension of surface water jurisdiction, is 3826 feet east of the nearest Powderhorn Ranch, LLC property, and this intervening 3826 feet is entirely underwater.

In addition to the contiguity problem, the lawsuit calls into question Harrison’s interpretation of an agreement with the Coeur d’Alene  Tribe which was supposed to settle jurisdictional questions over the waterways. According to the lawsuit, the agreement’s terms do not provide the necessary consent by the Tribe to annexation over the lake bed and river bed, which is in the Tribe’s ownership.

A number of other issues are also raised in the Court filing, including Harrison’s violations of open meetings rules, conflict of interest issues during the annexation deliberations, and the City’s failure to abide by its legal agreement with Kootenai County regarding annexations beyond its Area of City Impact (ACI).

The issues are highly technical and legally complicated, to be sure. What isn’t complicated, though, is the ridiculousness of the proposed Powderhorn development. It is an inappropriately large concentration of development in a rural area, with its only access to a roadway that can’t handle the traffic, and on a dry peninsula without adequate water resources for the intensity of development proposed. It is the dumbest of dumb growth planned for North Idaho.  We hope the Court will recognize the development proposal’s technical overreach, and strike down the annexation. Maybe then the City will have another chance to reconsider its economic and municipal suicide through this preposterous annexation.

 

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Leave it to Butch Otter to actually follow through on what should have been an empty threat. Today, Butch Otter decided to end Idaho’s role in wolf management. For the time being, at least. Unless it’s a purely political move, the directive is completely baffling, no matter which side of the debate you’re on.

Even the most vehement anti-wolf partisan needs to ask some serious questions: Now that Idaho is officially not dealing with the wolf problem, what leverage does it have in negotiating terms of future wolf management? What do Idaho ranchers do while the state officially ignores legitimate management needs? Wait for the federal agents to help? Will federal enforcement be less restrictive than the state’s?

Instead, the decision appears to be a cynical political move two weeks before an election. On twitter, at least, the official state announcement and the official Otter campaign announcement appeared to be simultaneous.

This isn’t leadership. It does nothing to resolve the impasse. And it will simply muddle the issue for the foreseeable future. Is this an appeal to the base? A need to close an “enthusiasm gap”? Or is it that the unthinking anti-federal-government vote must be bigger than we thought.

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As required by the Clean Water Act, the Department of Environmental Quality has just issued its draft “Integrated Report” on the state of water quality in the State of Idaho.  The utter failure of Idaho to do necessary water quality monitoring is probably the most glaring finding.

According to the draft report, of  5747 distinct waterways in Idaho, 2108 have insufficient data to determine the threshhold question of whether Clean Water Act standards are being met. That corresponds to 33,523 miles of rivers and 186,677 acres of freshwater lakes that have insufficient monitoring data or any other information on which to determine what measures, if any, are needed to protect those waterways.  The new report seems to show no improvement whatsoever from the 2008 report in which 37% of state waterways had not been assessed. Meanwhile, some 900 waterways — another 16,659 miles of rivers and 208,102 acres of freshwater lakes — are impaired but do not yet have a cleanup plan.

To put it more plainly, more than half of Idaho’s waterways are suffering from Idaho DEQ’s failure to properly administer the Clean Water Act.

But that’s not all. What about the other half? The report indicates that 1,242 waterways are, in fact, impaired and need cleanup actions to restore water quality.  In this category, there are 20,004 miles of rivers and 148,257 acres of freshwater lakes that have an approved TMDL cleanup plan.  But very little in the way of TMDL implementation is evident.

We know that Idahoans care deeply about water quality. The failure of DEQ to accomplish the very basic minimum requirements of the Clean Water Act should be unacceptable. The legislature, which has zeroed the water monitoring budget for two consecutive years, needs to provide the resources to DEQ to do its work before the U.S. EPA, or a federal court, is forced to step in.

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Nearby residents gather to discuss proposed Clagstone Meadows -- photo by KEA BlackberryCam

Yet another monstrous and ill-advised development proposal is approaching approval, this time in nearby Bonner County. The proposal would place more than a thousand housing units on 12,000 acres just north of Kelso Lake and the Kootenai County line.  Called “Clagstone Meadows,” the sudden city is proposed for  Stimson Lumber timberland northwest of Athol.  It is the largest development ever proposed for Bonner County.

At a meeting Tuesday night, nearby residents gathered to discuss the proposal and what impacts it would bring to their rural community. Our regional conservation colleagues from Idaho Conservation League and Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper, Susan Drumheller and Jennifer Ekstrom, helped facilitate the meeting.


Jennifer Ekstrom and Susan Drumheller listen to residents at Clagstone community meeting -- photo by KEA BlackberryCam

Any development of this size will have an enormous impact, but the impacts will be particularly acute on wildlife and nearby waterways including Beaver Lake, Kelso Lake and Hoodoo Creek. Many of the developers’ plans are still vague, with no concrete answers to how traffic will be managed, how fire protection will occur, and how water rights will be transferred and whether those rights will be adequate for the development.

The proposal has preliminary approval from the Bonner County Planning and Zoning Commission which held hearings in July. The Board of County Commissioners in Bonner County are being asked to give their approval to the large conceptual plan, which will then allow the development process to begin in phases.

Leaders of the Clagstone Meadows Resistance Coalition -- photo by KEA BlackberryCam

Written comments are due by October 8th to the Bonner County Commissioners, who will hold a public hearing on the project October 19th and 20th.  Kootenai Environmental Alliance will submit comments and will join with our colleagues and neighbors in support of the newly-organized (and tough-sounding) “Clagstone Meadows Resistance Coalition” and their efforts to block this enormous boondoggle.

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Yesterday, the Cougar Bay Osprey Association received yet another rejection letter from its least favorite correspondent, the Idaho Department of Lands. This time the letter came through their attorney in the Idaho Attorney General’s office. The letter affirmed the Department’s outright rejection of the application to protect the pilings and booms in Cougar Bay for osprey habitat and quiet recreation.

The letter rationalizes the Department’s position by stating that the Osprey Association is not a “sort of governmental or public entity” that can apply for a permit, nor is it an entity “empowered” by such a public entity to do so. Moreover, the letter insinuates that there is absolutely no circumstance under which the Osprey Association can make an application to protect wildlife and recreation values for the general public, even if quite clearly consistent with the public trust. Indeed, under the Attorney General’s interpretation, private entities, either for-profit or non-profit, are quite literally banned from doing on-the-water restoration in Idaho.

Attorney Scott Reed is reviewing his options with his Osprey Association client, but the AG interpretation appears to be clearly problematic. Stay tuned.

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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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