People who don’t want the shores of Lake Coeur d’Alene to become grandstands for hydroplane racing are looking to forever sink racing on Tuesday.
Given the lack of any kind of organized opposition, Protect Our Lakes Association - the initiative backers - will be surprised if the hydroplane initiative doesn’t pass easily.
Indeed the measure, overlooked in the other election-season banter, hasn’t registered on any political radar screens.
“I haven’t heard anything pro or con since the initiative was ratified,” said Coeur d’Alene Mayor Al Hassell. Proponents claim the measure’s strong springtime support will carry it through to victory. “I was surprised this had such a broad base of support,” said Jeffrey Coulter of Protect Our Lakes.
“So many people thought this patently was a bad idea, especially considering what happened Fourth of July,” he said.
The downtown Coeur d’Alene celebration turned into drunken revelry. More than 40 police officers, including the Idaho State Police riot team, were sent to deal with the problem.
That’s reminiscent of the late 1960s, when Coeur d’Alene booted the unlimited class hydroplane racing from the area after a 10-year run. Crowds turned it from a spectator sport to a drinking and fighting sport.
Protect Our Lakes recently surveyed the 18 Coeur d’Alene-area legislative candidates on the hydroplane initiative. Eleven of the 18 responded and only one, State Senate candidate Jack Riggs, opposes the initiative.
“If (the races) never come back, I’d be perfectly happy,” Riggs said. “But I don’t like the idea of a ban. I think (the races) ought to be up to the City Council.”
On the soggy, snowy day of last November’s municipal election, promoters brought a surprise presentation to Coeur d’Alene to try to resurrect the races. They brought a helicopter to give local officials a bird’s-eye view of the raceway.
A bright-yellow Spokane-based hydroplane roared out for a demonstration run, then belched and died midlap. That night Unlimited Racing Commissioner Bill Doner went to the City Council seeking its support.
The council agreed to entertain proposals, but warned Doner that local citizens likely would fight the plan. In 1985, Coeur d’Alene residents turned out in record numbers for an advisory vote on the races. They rejected a revival of racing by 3 to 1.
The Chamber of Commerce jumped on board the new proposal and soon a spinoff group, the Diamond Cup Association, was talking about trying a Labor Day race on Lake Coeur d’Alene. The crowds would be quieter, the tourist bucks would flow and the city would gain international exposure as the races were aired on ESPN, proponents argued.
They wanted to lease the Third Street dock for a racing pit. Independence Point, Tubbs Hill, City Park and the City Beach would have been fenced off for admission-only spectators. Local residents recoiled at the thought of their beloved Tubbs Hill being stomped on by spectators. The idea of paying to gain access to public ground also rubbed some the wrong way. Few believed that the drunken days of the 1960s races were somehow gone.
By late January, the Diamond Cup Association retreated and dropped the proposal. But race opponents worry that it doesn’t mean racing won’t rise again.
With a certain amount of struggle, they gathered enough signatures to propose an ordinance banning hydroplane races. When the City Council declined to act on the ordinance, it automatically went to the general election ballot.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WHAT IT SAYS: Unlimited Class Hydroplane racing is banned from any public waters of the city of Coeur d’Alene and the city is prohibited from renting public facilities for use during racing.