BOISE – A major overhaul of Idaho’s rules for marinas and docks on state-owned lakes is up for public comment Wednesday at a hearing in Coeur d’Alene.
At issue is a fundamental conflict: Idaho’s lakes are owned by the state, but much of the waterfront land surrounding them is privately held. With increasing growth and development pressure, the state is seeking to maintain public access while accommodating lakeshore owners and private enterprise.
After five “open house” meetings around the state and five more negotiated rule-making sessions in Coeur d’Alene over the summer, the state Department of Lands has new draft rules for state leases, such as those for marinas and docks, and for regulating use of state-owned lakes. An array of changes is proposed, from raising fees to make the leasing program self-supporting, to allowing, for the first time, “privatization” of boat moorage.
Though some marina owners in recent years have talked of “selling” boat slips through a condominium-type approach, Idaho rules and laws don’t allow for that. They do allow for three types of docks: Single- or two-family docks for lakeshore homes; community docks that serve groups of lakeshore homes, which typically aren’t open to the public; and commercial marinas, which are leased to the marina operator with the provision that the operator, in turn, will rent the boat moorage there to the public.
Now, however, some commercial marinas are seeking to “sell” their slips. Under the new rules, that could happen for up to 50 percent of a commercial marina, provided that the rest remains open to the public and that the “buyers” understand that they’re buying only a portion of a marina lease – not any permanent ownership right to the state-owned waters.
Eric Wilson, navigable waters program manager for the state Department of Lands, said there are people who would like to see that percentage lowered, and others who want it raised. After all the negotiations, he said, “I think it’s a pretty good deal.” The 50-50 arrangement, Wilson said, “will allow us to maintain that public trust.”
Susan Drumheller, North Idaho spokeswoman for the Idaho Conservation League, disagrees. “People are getting squeezed off the lakes – they’re a public resource, and they should be managed for the public, not for the private interest,” Drumheller said. “What this does is it just furthers a trend to privatizing the waterways.”
Post Falls attorney Freeman Duncan addressed the state Land Board in August on behalf of a group of float-home owners who liked the idea of getting longer-term rights to their moorage sites for their semi-permanent structures, though Duncan said his group also had some concerns about whether the 50-50 split will work.
The Floating Homes Association, on the other hand, has strong concerns about the rules. “We’re hoping for a big turnout,” said Jamie Berube, association secretary. “The biggest concern we have is the privatization of the marinas, and how that specifically is going to be done and how it’s going to be enforced.”
Berube said her fear is that Idaho’s lakes could become an exclusive preserve for the rich.
Others have raised other concerns about the new rules, including Hagadone Corp., which is questioning whether the wording will affect existing, non-marina uses on Idaho lakes – from its corporate headquarters to its floating golf green.
Wilson said the department also has been contacted by an attorney for Bayview marina developer Bob Holland, seeking to change the 50 percent figure.
Besides the public hearing, written comments will be accepted through Oct. 24. After that, all testimony will be evaluated to see if changes should be made in the rules before their final submittal to the Land Board in November.
To become final, the rules then would need approval from the state Legislature, which convenes in January.
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