July 8, 2006 in Opinion

Blackwell Island plan calls for more input

Wes Hanson Special to The Spokesman-Review
 

H agadone Corp. proposes enlarging the Blackwell Island marina at Lake Coeur d’Alene’s outlet. Enormous volumes of excavated toxic bottom sediment would be stored at an unspecified repository, with the remaining material capped on-site. Hagadone would build a boat sales, service and fueling facility in the marina’s north end cul-de-sac.

Further, the marina’s size would increase, adding 146 personal watercraft pads and extending some 80 50- to 80-foot docks into the lake.

Problems abound.

Geographically, Blackwell Island lies entirely in a hundred-year floodplain and was inundated in 1933, 1948, 1956, 1974, 1982 and 1996. Future floods may leach toxins stored “safely” under a proposed impervious cap. The lake’s only outlet is like a bathtub drain. All the lake’s water flows through it into the Spokane River. Any released contaminants will immediately flush downstream.

The island also sits above the Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer. A lake seal separates surface and ground water. There is no way to determine if excavation will tear it open or how such a breach could be repaired.

Past Silver Valley mining activities have deposited large amounts of heavy metals and other contaminants in the lake and marina basin. Excavating may pierce this lake seal and introduce toxic waste permanently into the aquifer and Coeur d’Alene’s nearby wells.

The proposed marina plan provides an inadequate environmental assessment of the basin’s heavy metals, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Corps also finds the developer’s submitted data do not support its optimistic conclusions.

Thorough independent testing, paid for by the developer, is needed. A neutral party would oversee the testing and send reports directly to permit-issuing agencies.

Because of the current assessment’s inadequacy, the Corps of Engineers cannot determine the area of contamination. No one knows which sediments to haul off-site and which ones to cap.

If the Corps issues a permit, who will monitor the sediment removal and storage operation so it meets the permit requirements? No one but the developer. This would be comparable to a homebuilder inspecting and approving his own building project.

To assure permit compliance, the marina’s developer needs to pay for periodic, independent inspections by the Corps of Engineers, the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the Department of Lands.

No repository site has been named. Kootenai County’s landfill cannot be used. Its policy prohibits shipments of petroleum- contaminated soil and, by implication, heavy metals. Where will the toxic waste be safely stored if no repository is found?

Flooding has repeatedly covered Blackwell Island. If, as proposed, the island’s elevation is raised with sediment fill, constricted floodwater will back up and raise lake levels. How will lakeshore property be affected? Will fast-flowing water undermine the canal and Spokane River bridges? Independent studies of these potential problems are needed.

The marina’s sales, service and fueling facility should be relocated at the entrance to the lake to reduce dangerous boat congestion, allow safe nonmotorized paddling through the marina and minimize pollution.

Imagine the traffic jam hundreds of yachts will create while traveling through the marina’s narrow half-mile passage to the gas pumps located at its northern dead end, fueling up and returning to the lake.

People paddling up the Blackwell canal to the lake and returning would face dangerous congestion.

Furthermore, gas and oil spilled at this northern fuel depot would quickly flow into the canal and the Spokane River and could cause significant damage.

Moving the marina boat facility to Blackwell Island’s southern tip solves these problems. It would reduce congestion, lessen the risk to paddlers and make spill cleanup possible. Relocation would also greatly shrink the proposed excavation area and preserve the existing cul-de-sac wetland.

This project proposes excessive lake encroachment. Ample large boat moorage already exists at the Coeur d’Alene Resort and Silver Beach. The Department of Lands needs to keep the lake surface public and not permanently lease it for private development.

In summary, the Blackwell Island marina is located where the lake empties and above the sole-source aquifer. It contains toxic waste. The submitted expansion plan does not adequately assess the content or extent of these dangerous sediments, nor indicate where they will be stored.

It does not provide for independent monitoring or bonding to repair damage. The marina’s boat facility would be located in a dangerous place.

Finally, the proposed plan excessively encroaches into the lake.

Independent testing needs to be done before permits are issued. If permits are issued, independent monitoring is needed during construction. The marina boat facility needs to be safely relocated and lake encroachment minimized.


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