A weakened version of a shoreline protection ordinance was lambasted as the product of politics at a public hearing Wednesday.
Speakers called the proposed changes to the ordinance “window dressing for a special interest power play” and “a political necessity.”
The Kootenai County Commission postponed its decision on the ordinance until Oct. 2 after listening to more than an hour of testimony, mostly against changes that weakened the proposed law.
“We are confronted tonight with a proposal to gut the stream protection zone,” said Scott Brown of the Idaho Conservation League. “The recommendation is pure politics and does not serve the best interests of the community.”
The goal of the ordinance is to protect lakes and waterways from phosphorous, which spurs algae growth and depletes oxygen. Phosphorous is washed into the lake with storm-water runoff.
The original proposal called for a 75-foot setback for all grading and construction around the county’s lakes, rivers and streams. Current county law requires a 25-foot setback for buildings, but not for excavating projects such as landscaping.
Dozens of developers and real estate agents complained in a hearing last month that the 75-foot setback was too stringent and would amount to a building ban on some lots.
The commissioners appointed a subcommittee - comprised mostly of people in the development industry - to revise the ordinance, and after three meetings the result was the exemption of lakes and rivers from the proposed setback requirement.
Instead of a setback, the new ordinance calls for storm-water treatment systems to be pre-approved for each site.
The committee that made the original recommendation for a 75-foot setback had 45 members and met 42 times in the last 18 months.
“He who owns the gold, rules,” said Gerry House, chairman of the Hayden Lake Recreation, Water and Sewer board. “People with influence who want to build on the lake have done things that have significantly degraded it.”
Wednesday’s hearing drew a smaller crowd than the first hearing, but the testimony was heavily in favor of greater protection. One person spoke in favor of the weaker version.
On behalf of the North Idaho Realtors Association, John Beutler said the change was necessary because too many parcels already exist that cannot meet the 75-foot setback requirement.
Broker Gene Abrams broke ranks with his colleagues and complained that the association was not representing the best interests of the community as a whole.
“Nobody needs to be a genius to see the waterways are becoming polluted,” said Abrams, a Hayden Lake resident. “And it’s largely because of removal of vegetation for development.”
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