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Cabin expansion limit gets fresh look

Thu., Feb. 4, 2010

Panhandle rule aims at keeping sewage out of lakes

BOISE – The Panhandle Health District will take another look at its rule limiting expansion of North Idaho cabins on old, noncompliant sewer systems, but the move won’t help a Pullman resident who built a home on Lake Coeur d’Alene and now can’t occupy it.

State Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, recently introduced legislation to do away with the expansion limit, a move the health district said would undermine its ability to keep sewage out of North Idaho lakes and waterways. But Schroeder pulled his bill off a Senate committee agenda this week in favor of negotiations.

“I’ll wait and see, see if they resolve it,” Schroeder said. “Obviously we expect them to protect the health and waterways, but there should be some flexibility to work through it.”

The Panhandle Health District’s board met late last week and decided to stick with its rule for now, which limits such expansions to 10 percent. But it also decided to launch a yearlong process to add some flexibility for owners of very small cabins who essentially were prohibited from expanding at all.

Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, applauded the move, and said it addresses a concern she’s heard from her constituents in North Idaho. Broadsword said one owner of a 600-square-foot cabin wanted to expand, but would be allowed only a 6-by-10-foot expansion. “That wasn’t really big enough for a bed,” she said.

The Sagle senator said she was glad Schroeder pulled his bill, and she hopes it won’t come up again.

“I felt it would’ve had the potential, if passed, to cause some harm,” she said. “I think it was a political tactic to get the department to discuss the issues. I’ve found the department very responsive.”

Jeanne Bock, Panhandle Health District director, said, “We’re doing our best to apply the rule consistently, however look at each case individually. I think Sen. Schroeder commented … that he wanted to get our attention – well, we’ve always been attentive to this issue. So if that’s the reason he’s done it, the purpose is already met.”

Bock said 90 to 100 permits per year are affected by the expansion limit, which applies to all homes on substandard sewer systems in the five northern counties. Currently, those homes have “vested rights” to continue using their old septic systems as long as they don’t expand their buildings by more than 10 percent.

Schroeder introduced his bill – which would eliminate all expansion limits – on behalf of Carol Chipman, who built a 2,749-square-foot cabin on Lake Coeur d’Alene near Worley to replace a 1950s-era 1,248-square-foot cabin. Chipman got a building permit in 2007, the same year the 10 percent rule took effect, on the condition that she tear down both the old cabin and another 800-square-foot cabin. She’s now refusing to tear down the smaller, adjacent cabin.

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