Private boat docks, public beach.
The two can coexist at Priest Lake, the state Land Board decided Wednesday. The board gave final approval to a deal with Huckleberry Bay Co. to allow private docks at Huckleberry Bay and Canoe Point.
The beaches there actually are privately owned, but special recreational easements guarantee public “use and enjoyment.”
A half-dozen letters from North Idaho residents and cabin owners objecting to the deal came in just days before the meeting, and an attorney for the Selkirk-Priest Basin Association pleaded with the board to kill the deal.
“It gives up too much,” Moscow attorney Charles Graham told the board.
“The agreement virtually guarantees that the public’s right to use and enjoy - to swim, fish and boat in the public trust waters of Priest Lake - will be impaired.”
But Land Board members weren’t swayed. State Controller J.D. Williams, who along with Attorney General Al Lance studied the issue and negotiated the agreement, said, “The boats are already there.”
“The issue is whether a two-slip dock every 300 feet impairs the public’s access. We don’t think it does.”
In addition to seven two-slip docks, the agreement allows three multislip community docks.
Williams noted that the deal requires a Huckleberry Bay homeowners association to maintain the beaches, post signs for the public, provide a six-space gravel parking lot and allow public boat tie-ups at the ends of two of the larger docks.
“Suppose we say no deals period - what would we get?” Williams said. “It’s not maintained, there’s no signs, there’s no parking.”
The letters of opposition called the Canoe Point area too congested already with boaters, water skiers, canoeists, swimmers and more, and said all the private docks would clutter the shoreline and get in the way of public use.
“I am sure everyone on the board realizes that having multiple private docks with public access between is just not going to happen,” wrote Roy and Donna Larson, who have lived just south of Huckleberry Bay for 35 years.
Terry and Pat Johnson, who own property at Canoe Point, wrote, “The public would receive no additional value, and it would create an even worse safety issue during highuse periods.”
Richard Barbieri, vice president and general counsel for Huckleberry Bay Co., said, “These people are objecting to the existing state of affairs at Priest Lake. They aren’t objecting to something which is changing that.”
He added, “There are lots of people who wish that only they owned land on Priest Lake, or that nobody owned land on Priest Lake. That’s not an objection to what happened here.”
Graham said the Selkirk-Priest Basin Association has not decided whether to challenge the Land Board’s decision in court.
Huckleberry Bay Co. and its lot owners still will have to apply for dock permits. But the agreement outlines the dock locations and conditions, and says the state and the company agree they’re consistent with the recreational easement.
The Land Board also approved a separate agreement with Huckleberry Bay Co. that the company threw in to sweeten the deal. It gives the state road access across some company-owned land to serve 12 state-owned lakefront cabin sites that previously had no legal road access.