Silt smothering a kokanee salmon spawning bed on Lake Pend Oreille will be vacuumed in coming weeks in hopes of restoring the gravelly site before any egg-laden fish return this fall.
The spawning bed was accidentally destroyed in the spring – just as thousands of kokanee eggs were hatching – during an expansion project at the Harborview Marina in Bayview. The owner of the marina, Bob Holland, did not have a state permit to conduct the work.
The destruction prompted an outcry from locals concerned with the tiny community’s booming growth, as well as anger from the Idaho Fish and Game Department, which has been scrambling in recent years to rebuild the lake’s collapsed kokanee population. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has also vowed to tighten its oversight of construction on the lake.
The developer has since been fined $2,500 – the maximum under Idaho law. The Fish and Game Department has valued the loss of the fry at $1.4 million, but the agency is not currently pursuing any financial penalties, said Chip Corsi, regional supervisor for the department.
“I don’t think the idea of mitigating for the dead fish has been dropped, but right now the focus is on restoring the damaged site to make sure it’s ready for when the kokanee return,” Corsi said.
A restoration proposal from Holland calls for suction dredges to be used to siphon the silt and sawdust now smothering the spawning area, said Steve Wetzel, a Coeur d’Alene attorney representing the developer and his business, Waterford Park Homes. Holland hired a kokanee expert from British Columbia to help design the restoration plan, which Wetzel estimated would cost “hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
State and federal agencies are nearly finished reviewing the proposal and adding requirements, said Brad Daly, the Corps of Engineers’ regional regulatory division chief. Among the conditions is a requirement that any silt vacuumed from the site be disposed of on land and that all work be completed by Oct. 1, Daly said.
The corps, along with the Idaho Department of Lands, has also suspended Holland’s construction permit for the marina. The agencies will reconsider a new version of the permit in coming weeks.
The episode has prompted the corps to take another look at its process for issuing permits for other projects on the lake, including docks, Daly said. “We’re tightening up our conditions.”
Kokanee lay eggs on shallow gravel beds in November. The site near Bayview has only a small fraction of the huge North Idaho lake’s shoreline, but it’s where much of the lake’s remaining wild kokanee spawning takes place, according to surveys taken by the Fish and Game Department. The bay is believed to be a stronghold because it’s where water from the lake flows through the gravel into the Spokane Valley-Rathdrum Prairie Aquifer. Biologists say the flow nourishes the eggs with oxygen and keeps them free from silt.
Less than a generation ago, kokanee were abundant enough to be harvested by a commercial fleet, but the species has collapsed in recent years because of loss of spawning habitat and predation by exotic rainbow and lake trout.
Corsi, with the state Fish and Game Department, called Holland’s restoration proposal “a good faith effort that has a good chance of success.”
Agencies should be applauded for their push for a swift restoration, said Hobart Jenkins, chairman of the Bayview Chamber of Commerce’s development analysis committee. But Jenkins wants the state to pursue a “substantial lawsuit” against the developer to serve as a deterrent.
“A $2,500 fine is nothing,” Jenkins said. “Other developers are going to look at that and say, ‘Hah! We can get away with that for only $2,500?’ “