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CdA Lake management in budget spotlight

Evening sailboat races are scheduled on some weekdays at Lake Coeur d'Alene. 
 (File/ / The Spokesman-Review)
Evening sailboat races are scheduled on some weekdays at Lake Coeur d'Alene. (File/ / The Spokesman-Review)

Funding to implement the new Coeur d'Alene Lake Management Plan is the only new budget item Gov. Butch Otter is recommending in next year's budget for the state Department of Environmental Quality, which is facing a proposed 16.1 percent cut in its state general funds next year. The department, which has laid off seven people, eliminated its planning division and is planning to hold eight more positions vacant all next year to help meet the budget cuts, has made the Lake Management Plan funding its top priority for next year. The funding - $377,700, including $112,900 in general funds and $264,800 from the water pollution control fund - would pay for half the initial cost of putting the plan into effect, including staffing, equipment, outreach and education. The Coeur d'Alene Tribe would pay for the other half of the cost, matching the state's contribution equally even though the tribe owns only the southern third of the lake.

Toni Hardesty, state DEQ director, told JFAC this morning that the 2002 EPA Record of Decision on the Coeur d'Alene basin Superfund cleanup, after extensive work by her predecessor, Steve Allred, state officials and Idaho's congressional delegation, left out any Superfund "remedy" to clean up heavy-metal pollution that's buried in sediments at the bottom of Lake Coeur d'Alene. Instead, she aid, "The record of decision allowed for the opportunity for the state and the tribe to develop a collaborative lake management plan, and if completed, implemented and effective, EPA would not need to proceed with a Superfund remedy for the lake." Efforts to negotiate the plan failed in 2002, 2004, and 2006, but in 2008, with the help of a professional mediator, the draft plan was completed. It includes no new regulations, Hardesty said, instead relying on existing county ordinances  and state laws, monitoring, and an extensive outreach program to educate people in the area about how to avoid adding nutrients to the lake, which can cause the pollutants to be released from the lake-bottom sediments.

"What we heard from people loud and clear was we don't want another bureaucracy," Hardesty said. "When we sat down and looked at the regulations that are already in place, we concluded that wasn't necessary." But in order to avoid new regulations, she said, "People have to understand that when they're fertilizing their lawn or doing other activities, that it can have an impact on the lake." She told JFAC, "Successfully managing the health of Lake Coeur d'Alene and avoiding a Superfund remedy will be contingent upon the action of all who count on this cherished resource." Part of the deal with EPA is that there's no Superfund money available for managing Lake Coeur d'Alene - that's why the plan needs state and tribal dollars to work, even in the state's current tight budget. Helaman Hancock, legislative director for the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, said, "I think it's extremely important. One thing that we have to understand here is that if this lake management plan doesn't get funded, the alternative is a federal Superfund remedy, which is not what we need in Idaho." That's why the tribe agreed to contribute so much of its own money, he said. "I think everyone agrees Superfund isn't the answer."

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Eye On Boise

News, happenings and more from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.