Posts Tagged ‘Hayden Lake’

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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We were pleasantly surprised when we heard that, last Thursday, the Kootenai County Commissioners had rejected a proposal to eliminate water quality protections in an ongoing subdivision development above Hayden Lake. The Commissioners voted 3-0 to overturn a hearing examiner decision that would have removed development restrictions on the Falls at Hayden Lake subdivision.

In a hotly contested hearing process in 2008, the 46-lot Falls at Hayden Lake subdivision was approved with a set of conditions intended to protect Hayden Lake and protect the surrounding neighborhoods.  One of the restrictions was to limit all site disturbance activities to the period between May 1 and October 15 to avoid runoff problems at the location.  Now, in 2011, the developer applied for a “modification” to have the seasonal limit removed.

KEA legal intern Trevor Frank drafted comments, noting that according to the county code, conditions can’t simply be removed unless the applicant provides an explanation “why a condition modification is necessary.” In this instance, the developer did no such thing –the modification was clearly not necessary.  Instead the application was essentially intended to overturn a condition the developer didn’t like. This is the second time the developer has come back to the county for reconsideration of parts of the subdivision approval.

During the 2008 hearings, the evidence showed that the soils on the development site were susceptible to runoff and erosion, so the seasonal restriction was imposed in order to mitigate the high risks of runoff into Hayden Lake.  In fact, the proposed seasonal limits were actually suggested by the developer in his own stormwater plan.

The Commissioners’ decision Thursday to reject the modification was absolutely correct and sends and important message. First, the Commissioners are not inclined to re-visit prior decisions in a piecemeal way without a genuine showing of necessity.  And secondly, the Commissioners seem inclined to uphold reasonable restrictions on development to protect our lakes.

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Faced with a subdivision proposal on a steep hillside above Hayden Lake, the Kootenai County Commissioners struggled today with the County’s subdivision ordinances and denied the request. The subdivision would have placed some 34 homes on steep slopes and erodible soils just above Hayden Lake – not far from where East Hayden Lake Road washed out in the recent spring rains.

The Commissioners wrestled with the fact that they thought some development could occur at the site, but not to the extent that was proposed, and the proposal was not in accordance with badly-drafted development rules. Commissioners Dan Green and Jai Nelson voted to deny the subdivision request on the grounds that it did not avoid steep slopes, “did not contribute to the orderly development” of the community, “did not create lots of reasonable utility and livability,” and it would have imposed “an unreasonable burden” on future lot owners. Nelson was further concerned about potential stormwater and soil stability impacts on Hayden Lake. Commissioner Todd Tondee disagreed, and thought that the subdivision complied with the requirements and could be engineered to accommodate the slopes and soils and difficult drainage.

In particular, one procedural step in a problematic section of the development code became one focus for the Commissioners frustration:


Conservation subdivisions shall be designed according to the following procedure: …

…Step Three:  Determine zoning districts and expected numbers of base and bonus lots.  Select building sites positioned to avoid slopes in excess of 15% and to take advantage of views and green space.  Note:  Though building sites should be designed to avoid slopes, this is a recommendation, not a requirement.   … (italics in original)

The Commissioners lamented that “shall be designed … to avoid slopes in excess of 15%” seems pretty clear and that the proposed subdivision design could clearly not comply — all of the lots on slopes steeper than 15%, and much of the development was proposed on slopes as steep as 35%.

But, the Commissioners struggled with the County Code’s “Note” making it a “recommendation, not a requirement.”  If it’s not a requirement, what is the proper standard to apply?  Ultimately, the Commissioners took the law’s “recommendation” and determined that the subdivision was simply requesting too much on land too steep.

This is obviously the correct decision. Otherwise, the bizarre “recommendation, not a requirement” language would have effectively negated the ordinance entirely, and thus defeated its clear purpose to restrict development on steep slopes. But again, it points out the desperate need for a new development code in Kootenai County — a process just now getting underway.


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Kootenai Environmental Alliance has a very busy land use program, but as a general rule, we don’t weigh in on subdivision applications in Kootenai County. Mostly because we’re a small busy non-profit – there are only so many battles we can fight.

The main reason for drawing the line at subdivisions is that under current county code (the subdivision ordinance — a very large pdf), subdivisions are almost always approved. If the proposal simply meets a checklist of requirements, and it is no more dense than the underlying zoning would allow, the subdivision is probably going to be approved. We’ve certainly thought that the subdivision regulations should be tightened, but until that occurs (perhaps now that the comprehensive plan is done, it could happen soon), we’ve generally avoided the usually-losing battles over individual subdivisions.

So it was with some astonishment that local attorney Scott Reed proudly brought to our attention the case of the Hemlock Hills subdivision, rejected last week by a Kootenai County hearing examiner.  In what he called a “delightful surprise,” Scott Reed pointed out that the opposition to the 34-lot subdivision above Hayden Lake was simply a collection of concerned residents, whose testimony clearly and simply highlighted the fatal faults in the subdivision application. All too often, testimony by non-professionals is criticized and discounted by the applicant’s paid professionals, as if an engineer’s seal, or advanced degree should be a prerequisite to stating otherwise obvious facts in a County land use hearing. But the non-professional residents simply went through the subdivision checklist and testified as to where the application fell short.

In this instance, the hearing examiner followed the testimony of the opponents and took note that the project places the development on very steep slopes. All the lots were located on slopes in excess of 15%, with more than a third of the lots on slopes in excess of 35%. The hearing examiner pointed out problems with erodible soils, roadway construction, setbacks, stormwater, the water table, and a failure to provide sufficient information about traffic mitigation. Indeed, the hearing examiner stated flatly, “The subdivision has not been demonstrated to create lots of reasonable utility and livability, capable of being built upon without imposing an unreasonable burden on future owners.”

From the hearing examiner’s opinion, it seems utterly obvious that this subdivision shouldn’t be built. But sometimes, with all the engineers and lawyers and “design professionals” purchased by the developer and involved in a typical land use hearing, it takes neighbors and citizens to stand up and state the obvious. Our congratulations to them.

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We sent a version of this post to our friends and members earlier this week, and we thought we’d share our thoughts on 2010 here as well. We’ve had a pretty good year at KEA.

As this end-of-year letter is being written, the Kootenai County Commissioners are finally completing work on the long-awaited comprehensive plan. As you know, KEA has been involved at every step of the way. Although the final product is not all that we would have liked it to be, the new plan is still a vast improvement over the hopelessly out-of-date version currently in effect. KEA’s friends and members can take credit for most of the improvements within the new plan, and for fending off attempts to derail those improvements by developers, builders and misguided business interests.

In other 2010 accomplishments, KEA’s Community Roots program started up Kootenai County’s first, and only, charitable CSA in Dalton Gardens, making CSA fresh produce accessible to food stamp recipients. Meanwhile, the Roots program also maintained our plot at the Shared Harvest community garden and continued our fresh food deliveries to food assistance facilities in Coeur d’Alene.
KEA continues to comment on U.S. Forest Service proposals in the region, and was successful this past summer in pressuring the local USFS office to release overdue monitoring reports. We continue to be engaged in very preliminary collaborative conversations about forest management throughout the Panhandle, and we increased our coalition and coordination efforts with fellow conservationists and forest activists throughout the region.

In the past year, KEA spent a great deal of time and effort on difficult and controversial water quality concerns. With our partnership with the Environmental Law Clinic at Gonzaga Law School, KEA was successful in forcing the Federal Highway Administration to correct serious deficiencies in its Fernan Lake Road reconstruction project. KEA also provided substantial comments into the Spokane River cleanup process and EPA’s proposed cleanup for the Upper Coeur d’Alene Basin.

We know that the most successful strategy for environmental protection is a well-educated community. This is why KEA has worked hard to improve our communications and outreach efforts.  We have utilized social media to extend our reach to a wider audience than ever before via Facebook, Twitter and this KEA blog and we continue our work to improve our newsletters, e-news, and website.  Also, our 38th year of noon meetings at the Iron Horse may have been our best so far.

In October, our Second Annual Junk2Funk Eco-Fashion Show bigger, better, and more successful than the previous year. With more than 35 artists participating in this chic eco-fashion event, our annual event has made environmental/conservation awareness positively fun.

Looking ahead to 2011, we expect to make more progress, and new progress. This spring and summer, look for KEA to begin a new phase of our Hayden Lake Project with some demonstration projects in collaboration with local schools.

Look to KEA to gain greater protections for beloved Cougar Bay. And look to KEA to lead the efforts to re-write the zoning and development regulations in Kootenai County to protect natural and scenic resources, maintain rural areas, stop sprawl, and protect our quality of life.

If you’ve heard me speak about KEA, you’ve probably heard me say it it before, the most important prerequisite for environmental protection in our region is a healthy KEA. The strength, breadth and commitment of our grassroots members and supporters are what gives us influence and power to do the critical conservation work that none of us can do alone.

Please consider an end of year contribution. If you’re not a member, consider joining. If you are a member, consider an additional contribution. If you’re a contributor, consider contributing a little extra this year. We know that this economy is tough and your household finances are stretched thin. At the same time, the threats to our environment and quality of life remain, while KEA’s already-tight budget is projected to be even tighter in the new year.

We accomplish what we accomplish because of your support.

From all of us at KEA, our very best for 2011.

Terry Harris
Executive Director


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This posting courtesy of KEA staffer Julie Vanmiddlesworth:

 The 9th annual Lakes Conference held last Saturday at Spokane Community College revealed that many of Idaho and Washington’s lakes are plagued by common problems. Invasive species and high nutrient levels are degrading the waters of many of our beloved lakes.

 Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper advocated for a wider approach to Milfoil control in Lake Pend Oreille, which has been limited mainly to the application of herbicides. Considering the limited success of herbicide application in Liberty Lake and Lake Pend Oreille, it seems that innovative, dynamic solutions such as altering lake levels to expose infested areas during cold winter months, hand harvesting, bottom barriers, nutrient reduction and isolated mass removal should play a larger role in the fight to control milfoil.

 Hayden Lake is also in deep trouble. “The Hayden lake Project”, a documentary video produced by United Citizens for Responsible Growth, Inc. documents the impacts from elevated phosphorous levels in the Lake. Logging, development, unmaintained septic systems, overuse of our water resources, motorized boat traffic, ashes from campfires and forest fires, dishwashing detergent and fertilizer all contribute to the phosphorous load. Algae blooms, swimmer’s itch and degraded fisheries are a result. The documentary was well received, although many of the conference participants know these problems all too well.

 Can we refine our choices and consume less? Less land, less timber, purchase phosphate-free dishwashing detergent and fertilizer…. we may end up with pea green soup rather than clear, blue lakes if we do not.

 “The Hayden Lake Project” will be screened this Thursday at the regular noon meeting at the Iron Horse. DVDs can be purchased at the Kootenai Environmental Alliance office for a mere $15.00.

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Last Thursday, nearly 100 people turned out for KEA’s premier of Karen Hayes’ new documentary film, The Hayden Lake Project which describes in clear and convincing style what is happening to  Kootenai County’s largest lake that isn’t Lake Coeur d’Alene.  

As the clear-eyed film points out, phosphorous is quite literally choking Hayden Lake, which doesn’t have a river outflow to relieve the pollution loads flowing into it each year. The pollution comes from logging sediments, stormwater runoff, and leaky septic systems in the watershed, and continues to build up year after year after year. The pollution threatens not only the Lake’s ecosystem, but the local recreation economy and lakefront property values. More frighteningly, however, algae growth is beginning to threaten the public’s health.

The efforts to clean up Hayden Lake seem stalled, however. In a panel discussion after the film, it was clear that frustration is building. When asked whether it was a problem of our laws not being strong enough or our existing laws not being enforced, local attorney Scott Reed said, simply, “Both.” It was also clear that the effort is hampered by a patchwork of jurisdictions without the funding or inclination to take strong action. Residents along the lake complained of ongoing development and docks moving forward without permits, violations without penalties, and elected and appointed officials without accountability.

Nevertheless, we were encouraged. Knowing that an informed citizenry is much more equipped to demand action, we were pleased to see that the film was having its intended effect.  Armed with information and motivation and new camaraderie, 100 Kootenai County residents left the film premier, we were convinced, to take action and demand more.

But we were devastated the next day with the news that Lee Shellman, a longtime resident, Republican activist, and unsung hero for Hayden Lake had passed away. Shellman, who was an active force behind the Hayden Lake Watershed Association, would have been the obvious leader to take advantage of this momentum and help lead the charge. We are enormously saddened by the loss. The job will be so much more difficult without him.

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