Kootenai officials’ blast shocks tribe

Coeur d’Alene tribal leaders said they were “shocked” by statements made by neighboring county commissioners to the governor’s counsel at a meeting this week.

The meeting was prompted by the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision last month to treat the tribe as a state by giving it authority to set water quality standards in the southern third of Lake Coeur d’Alene, which is owned by the tribe.

“The EPA felt there was a reason to grant state status to the tribe, and we wanted to know why,” said Kootenai County Commissioner Katie Brodie Friday.

Although the EPA, Idaho and the tribe have said the standards will be consistent with state standards, commissioners were still concerned.

At the meeting, they shared complaints about the tribe with David Hensley, counsel to Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, and Brodie was quoted by the St. Maries Gazette Record as saying, “The partnership aspect has been missing. It feels like it has all been one way. You believe the tribe would be willing to give, but that is something we haven’t seen.”

The Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which was not invited to Monday’s meeting, issued a press release Friday detailing the regional economic and social benefits of the tribe’s self-reliance and recognizing the 30th anniversary of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act, which the tribe said rolled back policies that had been harmful to tribal governments.

In recent years, the tribe noted, it has given $180,000 to the Coeur d’Alene, Kootenai and Post Falls school districts, $2.3 million to the Plummer, Worley and St. Maries school districts, and $87,000 to schools in Shoshone County. Most recently, the tribe has contributed $400,000 toward a public bus system that’s set to launch next week and will serve southern Kootenai County and Benewah County.

Still, after 30 years of progress, the tribe acknowledged that it has work to do to gain the support of its neighboring counties, although tribal officials were surprised by some of the commissioners’ comments.

On Friday, the tribe sent commissioners in Shoshone, Benewah and Kootenai counties, and the governor’s office, letters inviting them to come talk about any issues they might have, said Quanah Spencer, tribe spokesman.

“We expect them to meet us halfway,” Spencer said. “We’re not going to take their statement in the press as their government policy … We want to be a partner.”

Brodie said Friday that she was sharing concerns she heard from people on the Coeur d’Alene Basin Commission, which is charged with overseeing Superfund activities in the Coeur d’Alene River basin.

She also echoed complaints of some property owners about the tribe requiring encroachment permits for docks and other manmade features that extend into tribal waters.

“Something you hear regularly is, ‘Oh, I don’t know if you want to buy property down there, it means you’ll be regulated by a different set of rules,’ ” she said Friday. “Much of my information is secondhand. It’s a perception.”

Commissioner Rick Currie also reportedly said Monday that the tribe doesn’t work with other government entities, but did not respond to a request to elaborate Friday.


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