Posts Tagged ‘get on with it’

We have obtained a copy of a cleanup counter-proposal for the upper Coeur d’Alene basin from Hecla Mining, and not surprisingly, the mining company proposes a much shorter, much cheaper, much less comprehensive, cleanup. We’re still weeding through their complicated 378-page, 10-year proposal, but based on a quick skim, we’re skeptical that their plan will meet cleanup standards in our lifetime. Or anyone’s lifetime.

As much as we are loathe to acknowledge it, the cleanup in the upper basin is still a long way from completion.  We’re not exactly happy that the EPA proposal calls for 50 to 90 years of waste cleanup and water treatment for the upper basin.  Unfortunately though, it’s probably a fair assessment of what it takes at current funding levels to clean up the Silver Valley once and for all. Hecla’s proposal — which plans only for the next 10 years and puts off major water treatment efforts – almost guarantees another lengthy EPA administrative process ten years from now.

Instead, we should just agree to get on with it. We should commit to cleaning up the Coeur d’Alene basin — completely, efficiently, to scientific-based standards, and according to the law. The mining industry’s special-interest shortcuts to the cleanup will only delay the restoration of the basin.

Your comments to EPA will help counter the mining industry delay tactics. Our friends at Idaho Conservation League have set up an easy way to send an email to EPA to support the Coeur d’Alene cleanup. Take a couple of minutes to tell EPA that you prefer a comprehensive cleanup over a half-baked one, that you prefer to finish the job rather than take half-measures with no end in sight, and that restoration of the Coeur d’Alene ecosystem is important to you, your family, and to the health of the region.

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Kootenai Environmental Alliance provided comments, again –and hopefully for the last time — on the long-awaited draft comprehensive plan revision for Kootenai County.  In the works for four or five years at this point, the draft could gain final approval by the County Commissioners next month.

Candidates Jai Nelson and Dan Green at the comp plan hearing, perhaps discussing how they would un-screw it up. Photo by KEA BlackberryCam

The hearing was nowhere near as lengthy, or heated, as previous hearings on the plan. Commissioners Tondee and Currie were in attendance, but Commissioner Piazza, reportedly hunting, was not. After about two hours of lukewarm testimony, the Commissioners closed the hearing, but put off any decision until a regularly scheduled meeting November 18th.

The strongest opposition came from the municipalities on the prairie who were critical of the plan’s handling of regions nearest the city limits. Post Falls Mayor Clay Larkin and Hayden County planning official Lisa Key represented the cities’ concerns that the plan was confusing, somewhat contradictory, and not conducive to orderly city expansion. County Commissioner Todd Tondee questioned the testimony, however, noting that the area reserved by the cities for city expansion was significantly too large, and that the county needed to assert control over these areas where it is still primarily responsible for land use decisions.

Post Falls Mayor Clay Larkin, testifying. Photo by KEA BlackberryCam

Many of the comments from citizens concentrated on the need to restore explicit development densities to the plan. Many commenters suggested that without the numeric densities, the plan is an insufficient guide for the drafting of zoning ordinances and for decision-making regarding future development proposals.

County Commissioner candidates Jai Nelson and Dan Green were in attendance taking careful notes. But notable in its absence was testimony in support, or opposition, from the business and development community. The so-called “Citizens for Balance,” were nowhere to be found.  Also not testifying were the Chamber of Commerce, the Association of Realtors, and the North Idaho Building and Contractors Association, all of which testified at prior hearings.

Perhaps nobody is expecting substantial changes from the same three commissioners who have already spent a year editing the plan. Unless these three commissioners duck this decision once and for all, this could very well have been the last comp plan hearing for a very long time. We should be so lucky.

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The fourth (count ’em!) draft of a new Kootenai County Comprehensive Plan is set for yet another hearing Tuesday at 5pm. However, with the same three commissioners who took a year to edit draft number three, now considering their own draft number four, we don’t expect them to make major changes, or take the time to do major re-writes. KEA will certainly attend the upcoming hearing, we will submit comments, and we will plead our case with the commissioners. But we will not be holding our breath.

From a substantive perspective, the VAST majority of the changes the commissioners made to draft three of the comp plan are inconsequential. Of the more significant changes: (1) there was a substantial re-write of the planned communities concept, most of which will not matter, (2) the commissioners attempted to address concerns raised by the mayors of the prairie municipalities (and shared by KEA), but didn’t do a great job of it, and (3) they took all the development densities out of the plan, which is a huge and unnecessary mistake. The density decisions can be made in the zoning code revision process, but it is substantially more difficult to do so.

File Photo

From a practical perspective, however, there will be at least one new commissioner after this upcoming election — to be held exactly one week after the hearing.  On the one hand, a new set of commissioners may be able to correct the mistakes in the comp plan made by the current combination of incumbent commissioners.  On the other hand, doing so will extend the incredibly long process even further. So the question becomes: Is the county better off if the plan is adopted now, finally, as is?  Or should the county make comp plan fixes with the incoming commissioners, even if it requires us to wait for them to take office, hold hearings, and go through yet another process of making comp plan changes?

Of course, the next, more important step in the county’s land use reform process — redrafting the zoning and development ordinances – is something that really needs to be done.  Our current, horribly out-of-date zoning code dates to the 1970s.

So our view on the practical question is increasingly that Kootenai County just needs to get to the next step of revising the zoning code, and we all just need to be done with the comp plan dithering. The tough decisions over development densities have been kicked down the road by this set of Commissioners. At this point, we’re prepared to go down the road with the new Commissioners, and get those decisions made once and for all in a new zoning code.

Overall, if it were getting letter grades, this fourth comp plan draft would get about a C-minus … which is to maybe to say it’s a pretty lousy grade, but it is enough to graduate.


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