By March, consultants for local businessman Duane Hagadone will have completed soil tests to show whether dredging the Blackwell Island Channel would release heavy metals into the Spokane River and aquifer.
After analyzing the samples for concentrations of heavy metals such as lead, Hagadone’s Marina Yacht Club will negotiate with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to determine the best way to dredge the channel without releasing toxic material.
Consultant Jim Coleman of Coleman Engineering said the new information will help the company isolate contaminated dirt and move it to an off-site repository if the corps agrees to issue a dredging permit. Hagadone hasn’t yet announced the location of the repository site.
The marina would use any uncontaminated soil to elevate portions of Blackwell Island where Hagadone wants to upgrade the existing marina on the manmade island, which is bisected by U.S. Highway 95 as it crosses the Spokane River.
The new tests also will determine whether the company must cap the channel with a clay liner to prevent leaks that potentially could send contaminated water into the aquifer.
Coleman said Hagadone representatives are scaling back the marina with more warehouse-type storage for boats, instead of slips on the water.
Some residents and a local environmental group are concerned that the corps isn’t allowing enough public scrutiny, and they worry that information about the soil tests and how they are conducted won’t be made public until after the federal agency makes a decision on the permit. The Idaho Department of Lands also must issue a permit before dredging could begin.
Earlier this month, the corps denied a public information request by Coeur d’Alene resident Julie Dalsaso, who sought correspondence between the applicant and the corps regarding the soil sample plan. The corps also hasn’t responded to letters from the Kootenai Environmental Alliance asking for a public hearing.
Gregg Rayner of the corps’ Coeur d’Alene office said at some point the test results will be made available to the public, likely either through a public notice or public hearing. He also said the corps is writing a response to the alliance’s request for a public hearing.
Yet public affairs specialist Rick Haverinen at the corps’ district office in Walla Walla, said the agency won’t make any information, including the soil test results, available to the public until after the corps makes a decision on the application. He said the public can make comments but cannot review any information Hagadone has provided to the corps.
“As soon as we get the application in our hands, everything is confidential until a decision is made,” Haverinen said.
Coeur d’Alene resident Wes Hanson questions that approach. “There’s something haywire if that’s what is happening,” Hanson said. “It appears to be inside negotiations between the developer and the Corps of Engineers.”
Hanson, along with the environmental alliance, wants an independent analysis of the soil samples and independent monitoring of the dredging if the permits are granted.
“I don’t think that (is) an extreme thing to ask for in an environmentally sensitive case,” he said.
Coleman said he was surprised that the agency is refusing to provide information because there is nothing to hide. He said Hagadone’s consultants are following a corps-approved Sampling and Analysis Plan, a 70-page document for where and how to take the soil samples. The plan follows new interim dredging guidelines for lakes, rivers and streams located near Superfund cleanup sites. Coleman said the guidelines were adopted by a sediment evaluation group comprised of several state and federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency.
The Blackwell Island project has been delayed while Hagadone waited for the new guidelines. While waiting for permission to conduct the additional soil tests, Hagadone officials have been busy reconfiguring the marina.
Coleman hasn’t seen the final plan but said the new concept is to build warehouses on shore where the marina could stack smaller boats. When someone wants to use their boat, marina workers would use an amphibian-type forklift to move the boat from storage to the water.
Larger boats would use the boat slips along the channel. Coleman said this would help with congestion, a concern of some people who like to canoe and kayak the channel to Lake Coeur d’Alene.
Coleman said the new plan also would eliminate the need for a seawall on the north end of the channel where the water flows under Highway 95.