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Sanders Beach residents lose battle

Sanders Beach homeowners took a hit Thursday in the latest skirmish of the ongoing war over private property vs. the public interest.

A hearing examiner for the Idaho Board of Land Commissioners recommended against allowing four families who own some of the city’s most prized waterfront to build docks out into the lake from the beach the public once enjoyed.

Hearing officer David High’s decision against the 20-foot docks was praised by Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem, who spoke against them at a March 10 hearing out of concern for the safety of swimmers who are still allowed access to the lake if not to the beach itself.

“We are pleased with the decision, primarily because it has been a designated swimming area and recreational area for years,” Bloem said.

But Coeur d’Alene attorney John Magnuson, who represents the landowners, said the final decision will be made not in Coeur d’Alene, but by the Idaho Supreme Court.

“I like my odds in Boise,” Magnuson said.

Thursday’s decision came nearly two years after the high court ruled in favor of Magnuson’s clients, ending a century of public access to Sanders Beach.

The court ruled the public’s rights stopped where the landowners’ began – at the traditional summer level of the lake, or 2,128 feet of elevation. But the ruling does not stop recreationists from accessing the lake on either side of the private beach, at 12th Street on the west and at 15th Street on the east.

Having won the right to keep the public off their sand, landowners sought permits to build docks like any other waterfront owner, they said.

But Coeur d’Alene attorney Scott Reed, representing dock opponent Greg Crimp, said Sanders Beach is not just any waterfront property, as evidenced by the unusual amount of litigation surrounding it. Sanders Beach was one of only two designated areas for public swimming.

Reed and others said the docks would have impeded swimmers, particularly the young or inexperienced, from swimming in shallow water off Sanders Beach.

The docks also would invite motorboats to enter the swimming area where they are legally prohibited, opponents said.

Reed doesn’t buy Magnuson’s contention that the Supreme Court will again side with his clients, citing a 2001 high court ruling in which the justices rejected past applications for docks on Sanders Beach.

As for a possible appeal by the landowners’ attorney: “If John’s looking forward to it, so am I,” Reed said.