BOISE - The budget bill for the state Department of Environmental Quality, a tiny piece of which includes funding authorization to begin implementation of the Coeur d’Alene Lake Management Plan, has passed the Idaho House on a 53-16 vote.
All but three North Idaho lawmakers voted in favor; the dissenters were Reps. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries; Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake; and Phil Hart, R-Athol. Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, missed the vote.
Just last Friday, several lawmakers spoke out against the plan, stalling the budget bill. Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, said commissioners from all three affected counties - Kootenai, Shoshone and Benewah - all have come out in favor of the plan now, after several changes were made to the final draft. Those included deletion of the Spokane River from the plan and institution of quarterly meetings with county commissioners to give them a voice in the plan’s implementation.
Rep. Mary Lou Shepherd, D-Prichard, told the House, “I will be supporting this legislation, but I do not feel that it is the perfect fix to the problem. Local government does indeed have a place at the table but they do not have a vote. If they are the ones being impacted I feel that they should also have a vote. The three counties came together yesterday and they’re all on board now and so am I, and I would urge everyone in here to be able to vote yes.”
Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, told the House that his local Chamber of Commerce is in strong support of the bill, as are many in his community. “This is a very important piece of legislation for us,” he said, noting that the lake management plan is the key to preventing an EPA Superfund cleanup of Lake Coeur d’Alene. The plan is aimed, instead, at managing nutrient loading in the lake to keep old mining contamination safely encapsulated in sediments at the lake bottom.
Harwood told the House he’s still against the bill. “I got some really good advice yesterday which I’m probably not gonna take, advice from a good friend of mine, told me to keep quiet and vote no,” Harwood told the House. “I woke up this morning about 12:30 really stewing on this bill. … The thing that come to me was that when a man knows to do what is right and does not do it, to him it is sin.”
Harwood, who said on Friday that he thought the plan would let the Coeur d’Alene Tribe “rule over us that live there,” told the House this morning that he wished the Legislature had gotten to vote on the lake plan, which was developed over the past seven years with the help of a federal mediator. “Any time you got people telling you you gotta do this and you gotta do this now, you’re gonna lose some liberties,” he said.
The measure now moves to the Senate. The Coeur d’Alene Tribe is matching state expenditures to implement the lake management plan. The state is seeking a federal grant to cover its share; under the bill, if the grant doesn’t come through, Idaho’s water pollution control account would be tapped for a little over $300,000 next year to hold up the state’s end of the funding.