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Posts Tagged ‘levee’

We got the phone call the other day and an email confirmation yesterday, and we’re pleased to say that KEA will be represented on the City of Coeur d’Alene’s new ad hoc committee to deal with the dike road trees. An initial meeting will be scheduled for mid-November.

Recall that a Corps of Engineers inspection is calling for removal of the 500 mature trees along the levee between North Idaho College and the waterfront. KEA has initiated a petition drive calling on the Corps to review its levee vegetation policy as applied here in Coeur d’Alene.

Along with KEA, appointees to the committee include representatives from North Idaho College, the Centennial Trail, Fort Grounds homeowners, the 4-Counties Natural Resources Committee, Councilman John Bruning, and State Senator John Goedde. Other appointees include experts in hydrology, tree removal, and forestry.  The committee will work with City staff, including the City Engineer, the City Administrator and City’s Urban Forester.

Preliminarily, according to the email confirmation, the committee will be tasked with coming up to speed on the issues, helping to review alternatives, helping to gather information and resources, and helping to communicate with the public. We’re eager to get started.

Meanwhile, in other updates, our eyes and ears have noted city crews beginning work on unrelated flood control deficiencies noted by the Corps of Engineers in their inspection. Also, we continue to gather signatures on our petition. With more than 4000 signatures online and on paper, we are making one final push to 5000 before delivering the signatures in November.

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After more than 1700 online signatures, and about the same number of signatures on paper, the most frequent hesitation to our Save the Dike Road Trees petition has been of the “I don’t live in Coeur d’Alene” variety.

Our response is: go ahead and sign. We want all the signatures we can get, of course, but our response is not without some rationale.

First, the petition is directed at the Assistant Secretary for the Army for Civil Works. This is the person who we think has the most direct authority to make changes to the Corps of Engineers vegetation policy and how it is implemented. This person has national authority and national accountability and so we think anyone in the nation should be able to join our petition for redress.

Second, the Corps’ vegetation policy is actually a national policy. The policy is applied in Coeur d’Alene the same way it is applied across the country – regardless of the flood threat, regardless of soil characteristics, and regardless of the trees. In fact, the one conclusion drawn from the otherwise inconclusive science is that threats to levee safety from vegetation can best be made with site-specific assessments. Communities across the country who are not getting these site-specific assessments are welcome, therefore, to join in our petition.

Finally, our community is made up of people from around the country and around the world. And our economy depends on people from around the country and around the world who come to visit. Or, who might want to come to visit in the future. We think that these visitors, future visitors, residents and future residents might have a stake in whether the trees stay.

So go ahead. Sign the petition.  And feel free to get your out of town friends to sign too.

 

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This Thursday, noon, at the Iron Horse, we’ll have an update briefing on the Corps of Engineers death sentence for the dike road trees. Coeur d’Alene City Councilman John Bruning will give an update from the City’s perspective, including a discussion of a new ad hoc committee being formed.  And Terry Harris from KEA will give an update on what is becoming an extraordinary campaign to save the trees. (Here’s the online petition, by the way)

The briefing will mark the fall-season kick-off of the 39th consecutive year of regularly-scheduled general informational meetings at the Iron Horse by Kootenai Environmental Alliance, the oldest non-profit conservation organization in Idaho.

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At their regular meeting Tuesday night, the Coeur d’Alene City Council indicated that they will be taking a significantly tougher stand to protect the dike road trees. Recall that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has told the City that it’s flood control dike protecting the Fort Grounds and the North Idaho College campus cannot be certified unless some 500 trees — and their roots — are removed.

In a procedure that will set up action at the next City Council meeting, Councilman John Bruning made a motion (seconded by Councilman Edinger) that would have the city formally opposing the Corps position, and would set up an ad hoc advisory committee to help the city fight the Corps and protect the trees. The motion passed unanimously setting up final action at the September 20th meeting.

Councilman Bruning, reading from prepared remarks, said that the City needed to be clear in its opposition and needs to “draw a line in the sand and say no to a federal agency.” He noted that even the Corps’ own science on the subject is contradictory, and that “this is a fight we can win.”

Bruning said he was pleased with the outpouring of support for the trees and the “constructive and sincere” offers of help.  Bruning said the ad hoc committee could focus the efforts to save the trees with “respect, diligence, science and common sense.”

All credit to Councilman Bruning and the City Council.  This move appears to be a good combination of thoughtful and resolute. We look forward to the next Council meeting.

 

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers demands the removal of hundreds of trees along a levee mainly because regulations require it.  Local government tells anguished citizens that there is no choice but to comply, otherwise there will be no relief funds in case of a flood. But, the Corps failed to account for the presence of endangered species. The Corps runs afoul of the Idaho Forest Practices Act. The Corps doesn’t have science to back up their decision-making.

Coeur d’Alene in 2011? Nope. St. Maries in 1997.

One advantage to being the oldest conservation organization in Idaho is that we’ve got some really old files. Indeed, the trees along Coeur d’Alene’s dike road are facing the very same threat from the Corps of Engineers that mature Cottonwood trees along the levees in St. Maries suffered in 1997. Unfortunately, in St. Maries, a lot of trees were lost.

With significant flooding in Benewah County in 1996, the Corps of Engineers took a hard look at the flood protection along the St. Joe River, and the vegetation on the levees came under scrutiny. Of course, the levees were not the weak link in the flood protection in 1996. And trees were not part of any levee failure. Nevertheless, under a federal economic development grant to improve the levees, trees were being cut by Benewah County under instructions by the Corps.

As the trees were coming down, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service intervened, noting that bald eagle habitat was being eliminated. The Idaho Department of Lands intervened, noting that the tree cutting needed to comply with the Idaho Forest Practices Act.  The science was questioned. The Audubon Society (with local attorney Scott Reed) threatened a lawsuit.

Unfortunately though, much of the damage had been done. The “Shadowy St. Joe” lost a whole lot of its shade.  Ultimately, some trees were spared, some eagle habitat mitigated, but most of the trees were removed in the name of flood control.  Here’s hoping for a better outcome this time.

 

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Rosenberry Trees Petition

By popular demand: download a copy here, circulate it to friends and neighbors, and return it to us at KEA!

UPDATE: Here’s the online version. Link to it, email it, post it to your facebook friends!

 

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Last night, the Coeur d’Alene city council was briefed on the recent edict to remove mature trees from the levee embankment along Rosenberry Drive. Faced with a deadline to respond to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers certification inspection, the City agreed to file a mitigation plan which would allow work to begin on items unrelated to the trees. But the plan would also say that with regard to the mature trees, the City would be exploring other mitigation options and waiting until an ongoing science review on levee vegetation is completed.

The Corps readily admits the lack of science to support the policy of tree removal. From a 2009 fact sheet (pdf) from the Corps’ Research and Development arm:

At the request of the USACE Headquarters (HQ), in July 2007, the U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) conducted an extensive literature review focusing on the effects of woody vegetation on levees. The findings of the review found that no documented evidence exists to prove trees negatively influence levee integrity; however, research is very limited that specifically addresses woody vegetation on levees.

The Corps is presently doing some of this research. And with any luck it’ll be done sooner rather than later. Because, as Councilman Mike Kennedy put it  last night (to the best of my notes), “It would be a crime to cut down all the trees only to be told the next day that the Corps has changed its policy due to new science.”

Given the circumstances, buying as much time as possible is about the only good option for the City of Coeur d’Alene right now. And we’re glad the Council took that approach.

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