Cougar Bay is a rarity on Lake Coeur d’Alene: a quiet, natural area where canoeists and kayakers spy nesting bald eagles, great blue herons, and even visiting flocks of white pelicans.
That’s what dozens of neighbors told Idaho Department of Lands officials at a meeting Thursday night. One by one, they stepped up to a microphone, voicing concerns about a proposed dock business in the bay.
North Idaho Maritime and Murphy Marine Construction have applied for a state permit to use 10 acres of Cougar Bay’s surface waters for dock storage and repair. Some neighbors supported the dock storage proposal, but most opposed the repair business, which would include dismantling derelict docks.
“This is a junkyard right in front of our property,” said Rick Powers, who lives in nearby Casco Bay.
“I’m concerned that it will become a nightmarish ogre that we’ll never get rid of,” said another property owner, Jerry Carlson.
The Nature Conservancy, which owns an 88-acre preserve adjacent to Cougar Bay, also opposed the application.
“As one of the last undeveloped bays in Lake Coeur d’Alene, the wetlands and shoreline provide important habitat for more than 100 species, including bald eagles, osprey, bears, moose, deer, cougar and 80 species of native plants,” said Robyn Miller, the conservancy’s Inland Northwest conservation manager. “We believe, as currently written, that the proposal would threaten the ecological and aesthetic character of Cougar Bay.”
Residents have wondered what would replace 140 acres of floating logs on the quiet inlet. For 90 years, North Idaho Maritime – a tug operator – and its predecessors leased acreage in the bay to store logs cut in the St. Joe River drainage and hauled across Lake Coeur d’Alene. The demand for logs disappeared this spring, when the DeArmond sawmill, Coeur d’Alene’s last waterfront mill, closed.
“We’re basically out of the log business,” said John Condon, North Idaho Maritime’s general manager. “We’re trying to change with the times and to keep the doors open.”
Dock building is a new focus of the tug operation, which employs 15 people, but the company needs a place for dock storage and repair, Condon said.
“Some folks are getting really fired up,” he said in an interview before the meeting.
“Their homes look out over Cougar Bay, and they don’t think it’s aesthetically pleasing to have docks on the lake.”
But visual pollution is in the eye of the beholder, he said.
“There’s a lot of people who look up and see a beautiful waterfront parcel or a ridge that now has a home on it,” he said. “They don’t find that aesthetically pleasing, either.”
Murphy Marine already stores about 150 docks in Cougar Bay each winter, said owner Skip Murphy.
The company subleases the storage site from North Idaho Maritime.
Murphy’s company collects the docks in mid-October and stores them in the sheltered bay until May.
He said it keeps the docks on some parts of the lake from breaking free in high water and becoming a hazard.
But dock storage creates its own navigational hazards, said Carlson, the Cougar Bay landowner, who lives adjacent to Murphy’s storage area. Boats get stuck in the corral formed by chained logs.
On summer nights, Carlson said, he has to go out with his flashlight to guide them out.
Department of Lands officials’ decision on the application is expected by Nov. 17.