April 6, 2010 in Idaho

Settlement reached in Sand Creek Byway dispute

Idaho will pay marina owner $275,000 over right-of-way conflict
By The Spokesman-Review

The state of Idaho will pay $275,000 to settle a dispute over the seizure of 25 boat slips and docks at the Sandpoint Marina during a U.S. Highway 95 construction project.

The agreement ends an 18-month skirmish between Ralph Sletager, the marina’s owner, and the Idaho Transportation Department. The parties agreed to drop lawsuits against each other and pay their own attorneys fees. Sletager can reinstall the docks when the $98 million Sand Creek Byway project is finished, the settlement said.

The dispute arose over right-of-way for the byway, which reroutes Highway 95 away from Sandpoint’s historic downtown.

The Idaho Transportation Department acquired the right-of-way for the byway in the late 1950s, state officials said in court documents. The Sandpoint Marina’s C dock unit illegally encroached on the state’s right-of-way, blocking byway construction, the documents said.

But Sletager, in other court documents, said no state right-of-way existed. He purchased the marina in 1995.

State officials said they talked with Sletager for months about the need to move the docks. According to court documents, Sletager sent letters back saying: “I don’t plan to move my docks and if anyone from ITD or your contractors trespasses I will have them arrested.”

The issue blew up in November 2008. Sletager, the marina’s security guards and construction workers confronted one another at the marina after contractor Parsons RCI asked Avista Utilities to turn off electrical service to the marina, according to news accounts. Idaho State Police troopers and Sandpoint police were called to the standoff, which ended peacefully.

A few days later, the state sought court permission to remove the docks. Delaying the construction of coffer dams in Sand Creek, which had to be done during low water, would have added $5 million to the byway project’s cost, transportation officials said in court documents.

The docks were seized and put into storage.

Sletager was not available for comment Tuesday afternoon. But in court documents, he said the marina’s C dock unit had existed since the 1950s. State promotional materials for the Sand Creek Byway showed “the defendant’s existing East C docks, in their present location and undisturbed by the byway,” according to court documents.

Sletager is responsible for the cost of moving the docks back to Sand Creek. The byway construction should wrap up in 2012, said Barbara Babic, a transportation department spokeswoman.

Last month, the transportation department issued a news release saying they had reached a settlement with Sletager, but had agreed not to release the payment amount. The Spokesman-Review obtained a copy of the settlement through a public records request.

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