September 24, 2004 in Opinion

Editorial: Proceed cautiously on Blackwell plans

The Spokesman-Review
 

It won’t be long until the transformation of Blackwell Island begins.

For decades, the island at the confluence of Lake Coeur d’Alene and the Spokane River has been ill-treated or underutilized. For awhile, it served as a dump for the city of Coeur d’Alene. Periodically, it has been saturated by flooding. In recent years, an RV park has been added to one end of the island by the family that formerly owned the yacht club at the other end.

A good part of the island is flood plain and weeds. But that’s already changing as Coeur d’Alene businessman Duane Hagadone, the new owner, has ordered the flood plain filled to protect his future investment. According to his newspaper, the Coeur d’Alene Press, Hagadone is pushing federal and state agencies to let him begin dredging the Blackwell Channel on Nov. 15.

Unquestionably, Hagadone’s reconstructed Marina Yacht Club LLC will be a welcome addition to his north shore empire. But any plan that calls for dredging 220,550 cubic yards of possibly contaminated sand, silt and gravel from a channel adjoining the Spokane River should have a lengthy review and a public comment period. With so much at stake environmentally, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Idaho Department of Lands should resist pressure from Hagadone to fast-track the dredging project.

Hagadone plans to overhaul the existing yacht club, expand its marina by 300 boat slips, deepen the channel, and maybe build apartments, townhouses or condominiums. As part of his plans, he is seeking to widen the Blackwell Channel by 50 percent and deepen it to 8 feet. “It’s not deep enough. The trend is for boats getting bigger,” Hagadone official John Barlow explained to Hagadone’s newspaper.

Barlow went on to say that the soils at the dredge site tested below action levels for heavy metals.

“Metals are not an issue,” he told the Press.

We hope that’s the case, but heavy metals from Silver Valley mining are an issue almost everywhere in the Coeur d’Alene Basin drainage. For the safety of the Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer as well as people and properties downstream, it’s necessary to exercise due diligence in the permitting process. The possibility of subterranean contamination from the old landfill also has to be taken into consideration. Additionally, regulatory agencies must be certain the dredging doesn’t damage the seal over the aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for 400,000 people.

Over the Mother’s Day weekend, Spokane businessman Tom Hamilton, operating without all the necessary permits, discovered even a small dredging project on the river can have consequences. When he dredged a natural inlet for a boat slip in front of his house, he buried wetlands, endangered cutthroat trout and spawning beds, and sent a brown plume downstream, angering neighbors. He’s now facing criminal charges.

There are significant differences between that project and Hagadone’s, but with such a negative experience so fresh in the public’s mind, federal and state agencies will be on the spot to assure the river is being treated with the respect it deserves.

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