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Posts Tagged ‘Kootenai County’

A generous member has offered to match end-of-year contributions to KEA, dollar for dollar, up to $5000. For the next week, your donation goes twice as far. So here are the top ten reasons why you should click over to our nice new website and donate today.

1. Tubbs Hill and Cougar Bay. KEA is the leading defender of our local jewels. This past year we defended Tubbs Hill from unnecessary intrusion and we saved Cougar Bay for habitat and quiet wake-free recreation.

2. Who else will save the Dike Road Trees?

3. 40 years. We’re the oldest non-profit conservation organization in the State of Idaho. Next year, 2012, will mark our 40th anniversary. Help us kick off the next 40 years.

4. Tax deduction. We sometimes forget to remind people, but we are a charity organized under section 501(c)(3) of the IRS code, which means your donations to KEA are tax deductible. And tax season is coming up.

5. Board and Staff. We got a truly talented and dedicated team, and we’re really good at what we do.

6. Who else is calling out the nonsense in Bonner County?

7. Community Roots. Our successful local food program is expanding every year. Our first-in-the-region charitable CSA, and our local food share system are delivering local fresh food to families who need it.

8. Effective and Efficient. We are, out of budget necessity, a scrappy, low-overhead, grassroots, volunteer-dependent organization. Very little of our budget earmarked for fundraising expenditures and we hope to keep it that way.

9. We do the work so you don’t have to. There are so many meetings, hearings, and events to attend. There is so much research to do, comments to write, and phone calls to make.  As the grassroots community voice for all things conservation in North Idaho, we are tireless, principled, and wholly dedicated to our mission “to conserve, protect and restore the environment in North Idaho.” Because that’s what you’d expect.

10.   Our community depends on us, but we depend on you. Our natural and scenic environment and our beautiful sense of community is what makes this such a great place. It is all very much worth defending.  As you consider your end-of-year contributions, consider giving generously to KEA.

 

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“Spitting in the face of the physical laws of the universe is a fool’s game. Mother Nature does not do bailouts, nor does she forgive stupidity.”

Jules Gindraux, a longtime aquifer advocate, had a wonderful letter to the Coeur d’Alene Press recently regarding the BNSF refueling depot. The BNSF facility goes before a Kootenai County hearing examiner this evening for renewal of their conditional permit for operations.

Jules points out the sad inevitability of the disaster waiting to happen as the BNSF facility refuels dozens of trains with thousands of gallons of fuel directly above the sole source of drinking water for more than a half million people. It is not really a matter of whether such a facility will fail, it is only a matter of when. As Jules puts it, “Every day that passes brings us closer to the ‘mean-time-to-failure.’” Of course, this facility has already failed once.

Unfortunately, BNSF has an approval from the county that should never have been given. Now, in an effort to make a bad situation less bad, and a potential disaster perhaps less catastrophic, the county has been trying to build into the permit renewal new aquifer protection conditions, spill prevention mechanisms and better accountability. However, BNSF, by running to the courthouse and filing a lawsuit, has been successful so far in limiting any significant impact to its operations or bottom line. For example, BNSF continues to refuse a condition on the facility that would require the facility to be shut down automatically in the case of a leak. Instead, BNSF says they will wait for Idaho DEQ or some other government agency to order them shut down.

Unfortunately, the threat is likely to be much worse than anyone may have ever imagined during the original approvals. An enormous amount of coal from the Powder River basin in Wyoming and Montana is being proposed for export to India and China via controversial port facilities in western Washington. All of that coal will travel by train through our region. This is likely to double rail traffic with exceedingly long and exceedingly heavy trains.

The probabilities for disaster, however remote on any given day, are doubling. And the odds are worsening with every rumbling train over the thin protective liners that separate the aquifer from BNSF’s supply of diesel fuel.

As Jules explains colorfully:

When the disaster occurs, we will hear the universal excuse: We Never Saw It Coming. A subsequent investigation will show that Mistakes Were Made. But of course the guilty parties will not be held accountable. The universal mea culpa will state It’s a Wakeup Call, and as that phrase dies on the wind, our politicians and the money powers will return to kissing Aaron’s Golden Calf on the arse.

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Just as Kootenai County gets on with the long-overdue business of re-writing the dysfunctional land use codes, the chronic malcontents have indeed crawled out from under their rocks to wail about their property rights and to attempt to derail an important process. Unfortunately, their lack of concern for everyone else’s property rights illustrates how misguided they actually are.

In a hysterical email that was widely circulated, several local residents are stirring up opposition to the County code revision process. The email opens with:

“If you care about Freedom and Property Rights and you live in Kootenai County, WAKE UP!”

And in the Coeur d’Alene Press article about the controversy, local representative Kathy Sims is quoted as saying “We’ve got to be very, very careful we don’t lose our private property rights.”

The problem is that what I am allowed to do on my property needs to be balanced with the impacts I have on yours. Indeed, your property values are probably protected by reasonable restrictions on my property rights.

In fact, land use planning and land use codes are actually required by state law in Idaho. It is not an option for our County Commissioners. The fact that they are taking the job very seriously and inviting a broad spectrum input is healthy and wise.

The advisory committee formed by the Commissioners for the code-drafting process is heavily weighted toward the business and development community, with advisers representing builders, realtors, developers, planners, land use lawyers, the local Chambers of Commerce, and even the so-called Citizens for Balance – a group that fought hard for a slack comprehensive plan. These business representatives are well-equipped to defend property rights in the code-writing process.

But they also recognize that this process needs to be followed to completion. Property rights – both yours and mine – are better protected with clarity and certainty in our land use laws. The current patchwork of laws, many of which date back to the 1970s, are utterly unclear and hopelessly uncertain. We need to fix our codes, we are required by Idaho law to do it, we have a process underway, and constructive input will be very important. But hysterical claims of property rights violations are decidedly not helpful to anyone. Rep. Kathy Sims, in particular, should know better.

 

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BNSF and Kootenai County appear to have resolved differences over conditions of operation at the poorly located railroad refueling station over the Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer near Hauser. Recall that BNSF objected to tougher new conditions the County proposed last year, and ran immediately to the courthouse. Now, scheduled for a hearing before a hearing examiner September 1st, are a new set of conditions that BNSF appears to have agreed to.

Some changes in the new conditions were minor. For example, the County had originally asked that BNSF finance a position at DEQ for aquifer protection for as long as the facility is in operation. Now, under the revised conditions, BNSF would continue to provide funding for a DEQ staff position for a period of 10 years, but after 10 years, BNSF would continue funding at a level of $100,000 per year as long as the facility is in operation.

The main change between what was proposed last year and what will go to the hearing examiner this year appears to govern what happens when something goes horribly wrong. Originally the County had insisted that if a potential petroleum leak had penetrated two of the three layers of containment protection, the facility would need to cease operations immediately, and they could not resume until they were cleared to operate by DEQ.

Now, however, the proposed condition is much more lenient. The new proposed condition states that, for any release outside all of the containment areas:

the initial response to any release of petroleum products shall include immediate action to prevent further release of petroleum outside the containment areas, which may include ceasing operations at the facility in whole or in part, if so directed by DEQ … until the release has been stopped, at which point operations may be resumed.

In other words, BNSF does not stop operating until the leak has passed through all the layers of protection. Indeed, it still doesn’t stop operating until an agency shuts them down. And BNSF starts right back up once the leak is stopped, regardless of any cleanup that might be necessary.

Basically, we’re deeply concerned that this condition is far too loose to be fully preventative. We’ve only got one sole-source drinking water supply. We need to be much more protective than these new operating conditions would allow for this facility.

 

 

 

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Intern Kayla  Baker reports on the excellent IdaH2O Master Water Steward program she attended last month. Programs like these (including forestry and master gardening) at the University of Idaho Extension could be threatened in the Kootenai County budget process.

The IdaH2O Master Water Steward Program, offered by the University of Idaho Extension, is only a year old but shows promise in educating North Idaho citizens about water quality monitoring. From my experience with the program, I believe that it is an excellent opportunity to immerse oneself in the health of our local water systems. In just a day, citizen volunteers learn how to assess streams and lakes on a number of bases: habitat (riparian and canopy cover, streambed substrate, human use, etc.), physical (water transparency, stream width and depth, stream velocity, etc.), chemical (water pH levels, dissolved oxygen levels, amount of nutrients such as nitrate and phosphorous), and biological (survey of present invertebrates).

The program’s lecture portion is to the point and is enlightening. I feel the most important thing one will learn from this seminar is how human use of water can impair water quality; for example, the overuse of fertilizers containing phosphorous or nitrate can lead to a lack of oxygen in the water, which is dangerous for the aquatic ecosystem as a whole. Following the lecture period, volunteers are given a hands-on experience to apply themselves in a local stream. This is important for program goers, as they are given the optional task of carrying out annual water monitoring on a stream of their choice, and are given all the tools required to carry out the monitoring. The IdaH2O program hopes that the data collected by their certified water stewards will someday help agencies institute standards for water quality in the area.

I was very fortunate to take part in the program due to my internship at the Kootenai Environmental Alliance. After taking a course in Environmental Science at North Idaho College, I find the IdaH2O program to be a great supplement in a hands-on and more personal way. Personally, my favorite aspect of the course was biological assessment, as I hope to become a wildlife biologist in the future. It is important to me to see that our water systems have an appropriate amount of biodiversity in order to keep a healthy balance of life, and it is essential that close attention is paid to organisms that serve as indicators of environmental health.

With what I have gained from this program, I hope to make a change as a student. I am currently forming a student environmental group at North Idaho College, and I am planning to start a water monitoring site and include student members in assessment. This will hopefully culminate in a campus-based campaign to raise awareness of how to keep our watershed healthy.

I am glad to have the opportunity to take this class, and I hope that many citizens will take a little time to discover how truly important water is, and hopefully to discover our true duty as stewards to our community and our planet.

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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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With a whirlwind week of committee meetings, focus groups, and “Citizen Congress” town hall gatherings, Kootenai County is finally getting on with the business of re-writing its out-dated land use laws. The initial meetings this week will set the stage for an 18-month process in which the laws that govern everything development-related in the county — from subdivisions to signage, from hearing procedures to shoreline protection – will be overhauled.

In the first meeting of a stakeholder committee set up to advise the process, problems with the current code were enumerated and hopes for the new code were discussed. Most community members were adamant in the need for regulations to protect our valuable waterways and the natural and scenic resources that make North Idaho a great place to live. Most were also adamant that property rights be protected. Developers were interested in creating a code that provides “certainty” and clarity in decision-making. Rural residents emphasized a need to protect the character of their rural communities.

Todd Messenger, the project leader for Kendig Keast the consulting group in charge of the code project, noted that in most instances, 80% of community values are shared and entirely non-controversial. Of the remaining 20%, maybe half is less important, leaving only 10% to be difficult to reach agreement.

Nevertheless, the advisory group also acknowledged the difficulty in the process to come. For example, how to protect rural character is an open question. The community will need to decide if it wants to maintain working farmland and private forests in rural areas or whether the predominant land use should be relegated to some form of “rural residential.” How to better protect stream banks and shorelines is another open question. Can there be a balance of stronger shoreline regulation coupled with development flexibility?

There will be numerous opportunities for public input and comment. The consultants promised that the entire process will be open and available on-line.  (Bookmark www.kccode.com now!) But the consultants are certainly getting an earful this week.

Lane Kendig, a principal in the code-writing consulting firm, said a good set of land use regulations will require foremost a “look at the land.” Development on land well-suited for development should actually be encouraged.  Development on land not-suited for development? Not so much. So, in fact, a code that actually requires a careful look at the land does indeed seem a good place to start.

 

 

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