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Officials hear proposals for Sanders Beach docks

Tue., March 11, 2008, midnight

Besides reducing public access and becoming a hazard for swimmers, proposed docks along Coeur d’Alene’s popular Sanders Beach might not even float, opponents say. Attorney Scott Reed told an Idaho Department of Lands hearing officer Monday that homeowner Jerry Frank’s proposed 6-foot-by-20-foot dock wouldn’t sit in water deep enough to float.

Reed and frequent Sanders Beach user Dave Moseley, who lives about a block north of the waterfront homes, said the dock would have to extend nearly 50 feet into the water to float, not the 22 feet proposed. Moseley said that by his calculations, the deepest end would sit in about two feet of water at the most, not enough to float a heavy cedar dock.

Frank disagreed and said he measured it himself by walking 20 feet into the water in front of his beach.

“My hair was getting wet,” he said, estimating the depth at 6 feet.

Yet buoyancy hasn’t been the crux of the ongoing and contentious Sanders Beach battle. Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem and other city officials said the true problem is that the proposed docks would limit public access and present a hazard to swimmers.

In the ongoing battle between private property rights and community access rights, the Sanders Beach homeowners argued they have the right to a dock just like any waterfront owner around the lake.

In 2006 the Idaho Supreme Court issued a ruling that 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 the water in the summer, just not the sand in front of the homes.

Frank and three other property owners are proposing five 6-foot-by-20-foot docks along the shoreline in an attempt to secure their waterfront rights. That’s two fewer docks than the initial proposal. Two owners dropped their requests.

“I don’t know how we would be limiting the public’s right to recreate any more than any dock would,” Frank said.

Yet opponents testified that Sanders Beach is unique and not like other shorelines on the lake because it is a designated public swimming area protected by buoys. Docks, even those for non-motorized craft such as canoes and kayaks that the proposals call for, likely would attract unwanted power boat and personal watercraft traffic, further endangering swimmers.

Bloem, who grew up on Sanders Beach and whose brother still owns the family home, said the proposed docks would actually be “more intrusive” than docks in any other location around the lake.

Besides City Beach, the Sanders Beach area is the only other designated public swim area. People have access to small city-owned portions that flank the beach between 12th and 15th streets.

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

He claimed that after Frank made the initial request for a dock, the city in February 2007 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.

The city maintains that Sanders Beach has been a designated swimming area for decades, but the amendments only clarified and consolidated city law without making any significant changes.

The state hearing officer combined the five remaining dock requests Monday and held a hearing in Coeur d’Alene, in which only people on the witness list were allowed to testify. The state has 45 days to make a final decision on whether to grant the docks.

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