March 9, 2007 in Idaho

Sanders Beach docks proposed

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Five more Sanders Beach property owners are seeking state permission to build six docks along the popular Coeur d’Alene shoreline in an attempt to secure their waterfront rights.

Property owner Dick Barclay has no intention of actually building a dock. He said the dock requests are aimed at protecting property rights in the wake of Coeur d’Alene’s repeated attempts to make the beach public.

“People like to swim down here but we still have a right to put in a dock,” Barclay said Thursday. “People like to swim all around the lake, and people can still have docks. Why aren’t we treated the same?”

Coeur d’Alene plans to oppose the six dock requests just as it did when property owner Jerry Frank filed the first encroachment permit application in November, City Attorney Mike Gridley said.

The Idaho Department of Lands denied Frank’s request, arguing a dock in the widely used swimming area would endanger swimmers. Frank is suing the state.

It’s another chapter in the ongoing battle between private property rights and community access rights.

Attorney John Magnuson, who represents the homeowners, has argued that Sanders Beach isn’t an official city-designated swimming area, and therefore the state should allow docks.

After he raised the issue in the Frank case, the city in February revised its ordinance, making it clear that Sanders Beach is a public swimming area, meaning that watercraft within 200 feet of the shoreline are restricted.

Magnuson said that sparked the other homeowners to file dock requests to preserve their private property rights that were reaffirmed when the Idaho Supreme Court unanimously ruled in September that the beach is private.

“How the hell can it be a public swim area when it’s now been declared private property?” Magnuson said. “It’s no different than anywhere else on the lake.”

The city maintains that Sanders Beach has been a designated swimming area for decades and the amendments only clarified and consolidated city law and didn’t make any significant changes, Gridley said.

Attorney Scott Reed, who represents public-use advocates, called the dock strategy a “slap in the face” to everyone who swims or uses the water in front of the beach.

“What they’ve done is stir up the controversy again,” Reed said. “The public won’t understand this is some way to preserve (property owners’) rights. The public will say this is some way to take away their rights.”

The lands department received the six nearly identical applications last week and has 60 days to rule, said Carl Washburn of the department’s Coeur d’Alene office.

Each property owner is asking for a 6-foot-by-20-foot dock that would extend 22 feet into the lake. One person owns two parcels, and is seeking to build two docks. The applications state that all the docks are strictly for kayaks and rowboats, not powerboats.

By law, Washburn said, only adjacent neighbors have the ability to comment on encroachment permit applications. Yet he said that doesn’t stop the public from writing letters, and he expects a slew of them.

Last fall’s high court ruling essentially eliminated all public access to the beach, which has been used by swimmers and sunbathers for a century. The public still has access to small city-owned portions that flank the beach. And the public still has access to the water in the summer, just not the sand in front of the homes.

Gridley said that if all the Sanders Beach homeowners were allowed to build docks, the public could no longer use the water.

The dock applications, including Frank’s denied request, represent all but three properties along the shoreline between 12th and 15th streets.

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