May 23, 2007 in Idaho

State rejects marina expansion

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

BOISE – Developer Bob Holland’s plans for a big marina expansion in Bayview have been rejected by the Idaho Department of Lands, which ruled that the project would damage an important local kokanee fishery.

“The proposed location of the extended boardwalk and proposed locations of Docks B, C and D are directly over critical spawning gravels of the delicate and vitally important kokanee,” the department wrote in its decision, rejecting Holland’s plans to expand and reconfigure Harbor View Marina on Lake Pend Oreille.

It also told Holland that if he wanted to re-apply for a permit to make improvements at the marina, the application would have to include a marina configuration that would have no impact on the kokanee or its habitat; construction methods that won’t damage the fish or their habitat; and approval from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Holland’s attorney, Steve Wetzel, submitted a request for reconsideration or appeal to the Department of Lands in which he said the denial would cause his client “grievous financial injury.” But he told The Spokesman-Review late Tuesday, “I don’t think we’re going to pursue that.”

“We (will) just go ahead and start a new application with greater consideration,” Wetzel said. “Everybody’s learned some lessons here, and we’re going to be working hand-in-hand with Fish and Game. We’ll be putting together a mitigation plan, and we’ll be putting together a new dock plan.”

Construction on Holland’s marina project in April trashed one of the lake’s last healthy kokanee spawning beds by dragging old pilings across the lake bed, scattering debris and pounding steel dock pilings through the spawning beds, state officials have said. Tens of thousands of recently hatched kokanee fry were killed and thousands more unhatched eggs suffocated, state Fish and Game officials said.

Holland was fined $2,500 for the destruction, though more penalties could follow.

Hobart Jenkins, head of a Bayview Chamber of Commerce development analysis committee that has been watching the controversial marina project, welcomed denial of the permit.

“We are not saying you can’t develop in Bayview,” Jenkins said. “But … it’s got to be done within the rules. If you’re messing around on the waterfront, it has to be very carefully done, because this is a sensitive environmental area.”

A Fish and Game analysis of the application, cited in the Lands Department decision, noted the damage already done to the kokanee spawning grounds and warned of more serious damage the project, as proposed, would cause.

“Restoration of the site, prior to any marina construction, and more importantly prior to the kokanee spawning period this coming fall, is in our view mandatory,” Fish and Game Regional Supervisor Skip Corsi wrote in the analysis. “The best, lowest-risk situation for kokanee would be to restore the site and allow no new development at the site. If a permit for a new facility is approved, (Fish and Game) believes that careful construction practices and a marina design that allows for natural shoreline processes to occur will be necessary to reduce the long-term effects of development on the site.”

Wetzel sent a series of e-mails to the Lands Department in the past week, objecting to the use of the Fish and Game analysis in the Lands decision. The Spokesman-Review obtained the e-mails under the Idaho Public Records Act.

In one message, Wetzel said the Fish and Game analysis “lynches my client based upon unsubstantiated and scientifically dishonest information.” He also suggested that the Fish and Game Department itself was responsible for the long-term decline of the local kokanee. “To hand the Fish and Game a scapegoat on a silver platter will not mitigate the situation or help the kokanee,” he wrote.

Two weeks ago, the Lake Pend Oreille Basin Commission voted unanimously to ask the Department of Lands to prohibit Holland from doing any work on the lake until a series of conditions were met, including complete restoration of the spawning beds and modification of any future construction plans to protect those beds. The commission also called for a public hearing, regular inspections and a surety bond from the developer to cover any possible adverse impact.

Ford Elsaesser, a Sandpoint attorney and chairman of the commission, said, “The survival of the kokanee is what we want.”

Millions of dollars and years of work have gone into efforts to revive the fish, which spawn in shallow gravels that are free from smothering silt.

Wetzel sent the commission a sharply worded response to its vote. “To conclude that no replacement of any docks should be done at this time for the protection of the kokanee is not based upon fact or science,” he wrote. “It can only be based upon the political desire of someone to punish Waterford Park Homes LLC for an admitted-already mistake.”

Holland has ruffled plenty of feathers since he bought up much of the commercial property in Bayview and announced plans for ritzy developments that in some cases would push out longtime users of the area. He’s also repeatedly run afoul of regulations, from the destruction of the spawning beds to a sewage leak into the lake to constructing a retaining wall without a permit.

The work that damaged the kokanee spawning grounds was done without a permit from the state Department of Lands – the permit that was required for that construction to start is the one that’s now been denied.

Wetzel said, “We have a kokanee salmon expert coming into town to check things out and to work with Fish and Game and start figuring out the mitigation as quickly as possible.”

Jim Brady, senior lands resource specialist for the Department of Lands in Coeur d’Alene, said, “We all really want to move on with this project as far as getting those spawning gravels fixed, restored in time for next fall. And as long as all of the entities involved cooperate, we think it’s very doable.”

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