Waterfront property owners don’t have free rein with their shorelines, despite a recent court ruling that lowered Lake Coeur d’Alene’s official high water mark.
First District Court Judge Craig Kosonen ruled April 19 that the “ordinary and high water mark” of the lake is 2,121, not 2,128, as the state has claimed for years.
Just days after Kosonen made his ruling, Harrison residents watched workers dump fill dirt near the shoreline of the city-run campground.
Part of the campground washed away in the November and February floods, city officials said.
“We’re trying to get it back to where it was before November,” said Stan Kvern, chairman of the Harrison parks and recreation committee.
But as soon as they started work, state bureaucrats called and told them to stop.
The city is eligible for $51,000 of federal money for the flood damage, but the state Department of Lands warned the mayor that the city can’t use that money to replace lost shoreline.
“I assumed that if I didn’t place fill below 2,121, I didn’t need a permit from them,” said Mayor Dave LePard. “I’ve got plans to recover what I lost and armor it so it doesn’t happen again.”
State officials are concerned that Harrison officials aren’t the only people under the impression that they can dump fill material down to the new “ordinary and high water mark,” and possibly increase the amount of year-round usable waterfront land.
“We’re not going to issue permits to create more property,” said Jim Brady, a navigable water specialist with the Department of Lands.
“When it comes to erosion control, we are very sympathetic to loss, but we can’t allow individuals to reclaim land that has been eroded,” he said.
Anything that extends into the water - docks, seawalls, fences - must have state approval.
That means property owners can erect fences that extend below the 2,128 lake level, “as long as they take them up once the water comes up,” said Steve Schuster, deputy attorney general for the Department of Lands.
“We don’t feel that it (Kosonen’s ruling) somehow gives people license to fill the lake, or put docks out,” Schuster said. “The impact on the public would be the same. The public has the right to go where the water goes.”
Coeur d’Alene City attorney Jeff Jones said he cannot comment on what impact the decision could have on beaches within city limits until he can study the ruling in relation to the city’s shoreline ordinance.
Kosonen’s ruling is expected to have an impact on the Kidd Island Bay dredging project. Nearly the entire bed of the bay is platted and assessed by the county.
The proposed dredging prompted property owner Marvin Erickson to take the state to court in the first place. Erickson owns a small island in the bay that’s under the 2,128-foot level. The island was at risk of being dredged as a part of the project.
Now supporters of the dredging may need permission from all the bay’s property owners to go ahead with the project.
The situation on Lake Coeur d’Alene now is similar to that of Lake Pend Oreille, where the state regulates to an artificial high watermark, although individuals own to several feet below that mark.
While state officials claim the ruling essentially has changed nothing, Erickson’s attorney, John Magnuson, said it has “muddied the waters” when it comes to regulating lakeshore uses.