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Landers: Board will hear challenge to Coyote Rock development

Outdoors writer Rich Landers.  (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Outdoors writer Rich Landers. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Every regulator with a clue seems to agree that plans to build up to 30 docks at the Coyote Rock development are a bad idea for the Spokane River.

The river has emphasized the sentiment as spring runoff swept around the bend past Plantes Ferry Park, damaged pilings and nearly ripped out the first two docks to be approved.

However, nobody at the city, county or state level seems able to thwart a bad plan and its threats to struggling native redband trout and the area aesthetics.

So the Spokane Riverkeeper, Gonzaga Law, and the Center for Justice are taking a stab. On Monday, they will begin a formal challenge before the state Pollution Control Board, a three-person administrative court.

The three-day trial involves an unprecedented appeal of a permit issued by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife under the state Hydraulic Code. This is the first appeal before the board of the Hydraulics Project Approval process.

“The developers make it clear to prospective buyers that each of 30 houses can have their own dock,” said Spokane Riverkeeper Bart Mihailovich.

“Each dock goes through its own permit process. Fish and Wildlife says one dock is OK, because it’s not a big impact. They’ve approved two docks that way so far. But if you’re looking out for the river, you can’t take it one step at a time. You must look at the impact of 30 docks.”

With no lots sold and only one spec house built at the development, Mihailovich said a decision should be made now.

Rick Eichstaedt of the Center for Justice says he’ll focus on two legal issues:

• Does one dock impact redband trout?

• Does the Fish and Wildlife Department have a duty to address cumulative impacts, such as the potential impacts of numerous docks?

“The area is near redband spawning habitat and it’s in known redband rearing habitat,” Eichstaedt said.

The docks could introduce death traps for the young trout by offering new habitat and ambush sites for the growing number of nonnative predators in the river, such as smallmouth bass and northern pike.

Eichstaedt said he will cite department policy that calls for the agency to address cumulative impacts.

“But even without that policy, the department’s general mandate is to protect fish and wildlife,” he said.

Jeff Lawlor, the Fish and Wildlife biologist who issues the hydraulic permits for river development such as docks, said he’s caught in the technicalities.

Even though the Coyote Rock website shows 30 docks along the river, WDFW must address the permit applications one at a time as they come, Lawlor said.

“I’m trained to look at what’s being presented,” he said. “I understand what they’re saying, but the only thing I have in front of me is the application.”

Irony 1: Lawlor agrees the site is a poor choice for docks, and says he made that point to Spokane Valley’s city planners.

Irony 2: Spokane County recommended that no docks be allowed in this stretch of the river. Spokane Valley’s planning department apparently had concerns, too, but city officials decided they had to offer the developers an exemption to shoreline rules because of a technicality.

Irony 3: The state Department of Ecology is appealing Spokane Valley’s decision to exempt the first dock from shoreline rules.

Irony 4: While DOE is seeking to void the first dock permit on a technicality, the state Fish and Wildlife Department on Monday will be defending its decision to approve the permits for the second dock.

“It’s frustrating,” Lawlor said. “The appropriate place to deal with cumulative impacts and the big-picture stuff is through the city planning and approval process and the state’s Shoreline Master Program and the SEPA process.”

Irony 5: Lawlor already has issued a citation on the first dock installation, and he’s issuing another because docks are illegally tied up in the shoreline tules after this spring’s high water knocked them loose.

Paddling groups are drumming up a rally on the river out of Plantes Ferry at noon on Sunday to draw attention to the dock plans.

“Boaters, canoeists, kayakers, rafters and tubers have enjoyed this area for years,” Mihailovich said. “They don’t welcome the possibility of nearly 30 docks appearing on the river, along with the ski boats and jet skis that go with them.

“Beyond that, we want to raise more awareness of responsible recreation and shoreline development.”

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459-5508 or email