Would-Be Developer Alters Plans To Dredge Channel But Latest Version Of Blackwell Island Proposal Fails To Quell Opposition
On the eve of his appeal to the City Council, developer Mark Hall has withdrawn plans to use sediment dredged from the Blackwell Island channel in building a proposed RV park.
His proposal to use the material, which opposition groups say is laden with toxic heavy metals, was a major stumbling block last March when the city planning commission rejected the 220-unit RV park. Hall’s appeal of that decision will be heard Tuesday.
“We have already withdrawn our permit for dredging,” Hall said. He said that even though he may reapply for permission to dredge the channel in coming years, “any plans to dredge would not involve a (sediment) disposal site in the RV park.”
The Blackwell Island controversy is now approaching its 11th public meeting - and may just be the lengthiest in planning department history. The RV park was originally approved by the planning commission in 1995, but that decision was overturned earlier this year when a judge ruled the city had OK’d the development before annexing Blackwell Island.
Hall resubmitted his plans in March, but the planning commission rejected them.
“It’s frustrating,” Hall said of his on-again, off-again park. “We’ve ridden the roller coaster of emotion.”
It is uncertain whether Hall’s move to drop the controversial dredging from his plan will make a difference at the upcoming City Council meeting.
But John Bruning, chairman of the planning commission, said that issue was the major reason commissioners rejected the proposal in March.
“I really think that was the thing that killed it,” said Bruning, describing the 3-2 vote. “It was something new. We hadn’t heard about it before that meeting. I think Hall was smart to drop those plans.”
Bruning said he believed Hall had adequately addressed most of the commission’s other questions, which included concerns over increased traffic on state Highway 41, wastewater management issues on the property, and flooding.
But for members of the Rural Kootenai Organization, Hall’s latest move is merely a tiny “step in the right direction.” Members said they still have lingering concerns about other aspects of the project - concerns which leave their opposition unchanged.
Gerald Gospednetich cited increased traffic snarls, problems from a former landfill on the site, and eventual wastewater management problems in Blackwell Island’s flood-plain.
“I’m concerned that if this project is approved, it could be a precedent for other areas,” Gospednetich said. “I really think that public agencies are not being responsible to look at the big picture.”
One of the most vocal critics of the plan to dredge Blackwell Island channel has been Wes Hanson, also of the Rural Kootenai Organization. Like Gospednetich, he doesn’t think Hall’s withdrawal of the most controversial part of the proposal makes the RV park any more attractive.
“Things change by the moment with that development,” Hanson said. “He just keeps coming up with things to make it look like it won’t be harmful.”
In a Friday morning interview, Hall said he realizes opponents of the project won’t go away, even after he decided not to use the dredge material. Now, he said he’ll bring in fill material for the RV sites from elsewhere to bring their level above to the flood plain.
He said he is also convinced that opponents are using his proposed project as a means of limiting the Coeur d’Alene’s expansion west of the Spokane River. It’s not so much that they don’t like my development, Hall said - they don’t like any development here.
“They’re using the courts as a part of their process, and it makes it very difficult for me,” Hall said. “If I don’t miss my guess, it’s almost a hobby for them, taking a stand for no growth.”