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Marina owner challenges removal of docks

Sat., Nov. 15, 2008, midnight

Idaho and Sandpoint police were called out Thursday when preparation for dredging to build the Sand Creek Byway sparked a confrontation between a North Idaho businessman and construction workers.

Ralph Sletager, owner of the Sandpoint Marina, said he confronted four construction workers on his docks who told him they were preparing to remove the “C dock” unit, which has 25 boat slips.

Sletager’s lawyer, John A. Finney, said in a letter to Idaho State Police Sgt. Richard A. Field following the incident Thursday that “there has been no demand or action to require removal of the docks” by the Idaho Department of Lands.

Not so, Idaho Transportation Department spokeswoman Barbara Babic said Friday.

Attorneys for the state have been talking to Sletager for months about the need to remove the docks for the construction project, she said.

“Those docks he’s talking about are sitting on state property. This should be no surprise to him,” she said.

Sletager, who acknowledged he’s been an “outspoken opponent” of the construction project, said the incident Thursday began when contractor Parsons RCI asked Avista to turn off electrical service to the marina, but the private utility refused without consent from him.

Another group of construction workers returned with upward of a dozen Idaho State Police troopers, a K-9 unit and Sandpoint police officers, who told Sletager they were ordered to disarm and arrest, if necessary, any armed private security guards hired by the marina owner.

Babic said “the police were there for safety reasons. Mr. Sletager had sent a letter to our contractor threatening to have armed guards out there.”

Sletager said he was told his security guards had to “leave or put their guns down, and if one posed a threat, they’d be taken out.”

The businessman said he was told by one officer, “You don’t want anyone to die over these docks.”

The tense situation thawed after the senior ISP officer met with Sletager and learned he believed his docks weren’t to be removed.

Construction workers remained off the property Friday but began erecting a large crane nearby. Sletager said he was told Parsons RCI will attempt to remove the docks early next week.

Babic would only say the docks will be removed “very soon.”

Sletager said he’s weighing his options, including seeking an emergency court injunction.

“I feel personally singled out … but I am not attempting to stop the bypass,” he said Friday. “I am simply outraged and afraid at what I see as my government run amok,” he said.

Babic said Sletager “has the option to move the docks or we will move them for him.”

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