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After some careful consideration, Kootenai Environmental Alliance has, as part of our new Save Cougar Bay campaign,  joined forces with the Cougar Bay Osprey Protective Association to preserve the log pilings in Cougar Bay. The pilings represent cultural, recreational, and biological values that are important in Cougar Bay – the last quiet Bay on Coeur d’Alene Lake. We are supporting an Osprey Association application to the Idaho Department of Lands which would keep the existing log pilings and log booms in Cougar Bay for osprey habitat consistent with quiet recreation.

 As most local residents know, Cougar Bay provides a unique refuge for quiet enjoyment within minutes of downtown Coeur d’Alene. As the last undeveloped shallow bay in Coeur d’Alene Lake’s northern end, Cougar Bay contains rich wildlife habitat in its water, wetlands, and upland. But the pilings and booms in the Bay are also a historical testament to the community’s cultural logging roots.

 Cougar Bay provides a unique opportunity for quiet recreation on a lake otherwise bustling with noise and excitement. Cougar Bay represents less than 2% of Coeur d’Alene Lake’s surface area. This small portion of the lake is crucial to kayakers and other smaller watercraft users who desire an escape from the noise and wakes of powerboats, which are present on the other 98%. Powerboats are still allowed in Cougar Bay, but they must obey the no-wake designation, which is emphasized by the presence of the pilings and booms.

 On behalf of the Cougar Bay Osprey Protective Association, area attorney Scott Reed filed an application with the Idaho Department of Lands that requests an encroachment permit for the pilings and booms, abandoned by the long-gone timber mills. The permit asks that IDL approve the encroachment primarily for osprey nesting, but also “to keep existing resting and nesting habitat for other waterfowl, to provide quiet water for small watercraft and non-motorized boats, and to preserve the heritage of the logging industry for public viewing.”

 In what is probably a first for IDL, the proposal to maintain the status quo has no environmental impact whatsoever.  Indeed, as the application points out, “any impact upon the waters occurred over 100 years ago” and thus requires no “mitigation plan” for such impacts.  The application notes simply, “The entire project is mitigation in itself.” 

 The Osprey Association is signing on for long-term maintenance of the pilings and booms, and has agreed to maintain insurance.

 In our view, the existing log booms and pilings in Cougar Bay remain quite valuable even though the historic timber mills are gone. Protecting the pilings and booms in Cougar Bay will serve residents and tourists by protecting valued existing recreational opportunities, preserving existing wildlife habitat and biological integrity, and conserving a cultural and historical community artifact.

 The pilings provide nesting and perching sites for osprey and other wildlife, while the booms protect non-motorized recreation and shoreline habitat by vastly diminishing wave and noise disturbances. Additionally, they serve as a constant and forceful reminder of the area’s no-wake designation. This protection from wave and noise disturbances creates a place on the Lake where wildlife can flourish in their natural habitat.

 The pilings and booms themselves are an increasingly rare historical and cultural remnant, which will continue to remind the community where we came from. The removal of pilings near the mouth of the St. Joe River, along with planned removals along the Spokane River, make the existence of booms and pilings in Cougar Bay even more important, both for the protection of wildlife habitat and as a historical and cultural artifact.

 The alternative to preserving the pilings is, of course, removing them. But the cost of removing Cougar Bay pilings is estimated at more than one million dollars – money that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere anymore. Besides, removing the pilings and booms will not only be expensive but could also disturb the lakebed.  This would allow dangerous heavy metal sediment, which is presently contained underneath the water, to escape into the Lake and flow down the Spokane River.  By simply preserving the pilings and booms, costs can be avoided, environmental damage can be avoided, and wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and community heritage can be preserved.

 What You Can Do:

 Send a card or letter to Idaho Department of Lands to express your support for the preservation of the pilings in Cougar Bay. Be sure to emphasize how and why fish and wildlife habitat, aquatic life, recreation, aesthetic beauty and water quality in Cougar Bay is important to you. (Refer to IDL Docket Number: L95-SS-5386)

 Write:           Idaho Department of Lands

                     Mica Supervisory Area

                     3258 W. Industrial Loop

                     Coeur d’Alene, ID 83815

Our excellent legal intern Trevor Frank contributed to this article.

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