Sanders Beach – at least most of it – is open to the public, in District Judge James Judd’s opinion.
And for now, his opinion is law.
Signed Thursday and filed on Friday, the opinion set the ordinary high water mark for Sanders Beach at 2,130 feet above sea level, which is 2 feet higher than summer pool and what the state considers the high water mark.
That means that landowners along East Lakeshore Drive cannot legally kick people off the beach anywhere south of the seawall belonging to Jerry and Pat Frank on the east end of the beach.
“I would expect there will be an appeal by the property owners,” said Scott Reed, attorney for the Sanders Beach Preservation Association, which had fought for public access. “But in the meantime, it’s public.”
The attorney representing the East Lakeshore property owners couldn’t be reached for comment Friday afternoon, but Peter Erbland, attorney for the Coeur d’Alene Lakeshore Property Owners Association, agreed that an appeal is likely.
“We respectfully disagree with the court,” he said. “We think 2,128 (feet) is the ordinary high water mark.”
Judd’s opinion applies only to Sanders Beach, however. Other property owners with lakeshore property will not be affected.
It may take a year or more before any appeal reaches the Idaho Supreme Court, attorneys said, which gives the public at least one more summer to enjoy the sandy stretch of shoreline between 11th and 15th streets.
The sandy beach lying east of 15th Street to the Coeur d’Alene Resort Golf Course property is undisputed public beach. But in recent years, property owners to the west of 15th Street have challenged the longstanding public use of their beachfront, with some even installing chain-link fences down to the water.
A court case involving the legality of those fences is pending at the state Supreme Court.
Property owners complained that the city didn’t enforce trespassing or other laws on the beach, and city officials said that was difficult until the ordinary high water mark was determined by a judge.
So last fall, the city filed suit against the East Lakeshore property owners, the Sanders Beach Preservation Association and the state of Idaho to determine once and for all who owns Sanders Beach.
“That’s what we were looking for in the lawsuit, for the court to draw a line so we could enforce property rights,” said City Attorney Mike Gridley. “We are glad that we got a ruling. We were neutral.”
Now that a judge has determined that most of the beach is in the public domain, the city will assume the responsibility for policing and maintaining the beach – as it has all summer under a temporary judge’s order.
The city parks department has been picking up litter, police officers on bikes have visited the beach, and a nighttime security guard ushers people off the beach at 10 p.m. and checks back at 2 a.m. to chase off any late-night visitors, Gridley said.
“We’ve had a minimum number of complaints,” he said.
The ruling doesn’t rid the beach of all ambiguity, however. The 2,130-foot high water mark does not encompass the entire beach, leaving some sand in private hands on the west end of the beach.
Gridley said the city will have to survey the beach and install some markers, such as small concrete cones, to delineate where the public beach ends and the private beach begins.
Reed of the Sanders Beach Preservation Association had argued that the high water mark actually extended to 2,138 feet, but said he was not disappointed with Friday’s news.
“It’s not everything we wanted, but so close,” he said.