At the east end of Coeur d’Alene, bald eagles swoop and dive over the lake as excited onlookers snap pictures or watch with spotting scopes, and others stroll by on the Centennial Trail with their dogs, enjoying the winter wildlife show. This is where a temporary onramp will be constructed to allow three giant, Montana-bound megaloads of oil refinery equipment to complete their roundabout journey through the area in January and February and trundle back onto Interstate 90 on the far side of the tall stretch of Veterans Memorial Bridge.
On Thursday night, more than 50 people turned out for a public meeting about the hauls, with questions about everything from fisheries to safety; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. The area around the onramp site, at Higgens Point, is both an environmental treasure for the community and the site of an infamous environmental failure for ITD. In the early 1990s, ITD was attempting to build an interchange there when a huge landslide sent two pieces of heavy earth-moving equipment and tons of gravel into the lake, right where kokanee spawn. As part of its penalties, to mitigate the damage, ITD expanded spawning beds all along the area and built the popular Centennial Trail. It's the spawning kokanee that draw the eagles each year.
Federal authorities nixed the interchange the agency had been attempting to build, to connect the former freeway at Lake Coeur d’Alene Drive with the new one on the far side of the then-new high bridge, the Veterans Memorial Bridge. That’s why it’s now a popular recreation and wildlife viewing area with no through traffic; it's that bridge that the megaloads are skirting by following the roundabout route. The partly completed remains of the abandoned interchange are what would serve as the temporary on-ramp.