The mood was better than anticipated when more than two dozenkayakers, canoeists and rafters set out from Plantes Ferry Park to protest 30 private docks proposed for the Coyote Rock development along the Spokane River.
On Friday, the environmental groups behind Sunday’s protest float were notified that the developer of Coyote Rock – Coeur d’Alene-based Neighborhood Inc. – is ready to negotiate, and a hearing before the state Pollution Control Hearings Board that was supposed to start today has been postponed.
“All of the sudden the developer is willing to talk to us,” said Mike Petersen, executive director of The Lands Council, which is part of the formal challenge against Neighborhood Inc. “I believe the developer realized that the 30 docks would create a public furor. So yes, we are optimistic.”
The Spokane Riverkeeper, Gonzaga Law, the Center for Justice, Trout Unlimited and The Lands Council got together to protest the proposed docks.
Rich Eichstaedt, a Center for Justice attorney representing the Spokane Riverkeeper, led the floaters down the river while explaining some of the issues.
A lawsuit against the city of Spokane Valley is proposed because the city granted Neighborhood Inc. an exemption from shoreline rules, Eichstaedt said.
Another lawsuit is aimed at the state Department of Fish and Wildlife because the agency is looking at the docks one at a time without considering the cumulative effect of 30 docks along a short stretch of river, Eichstaedt said.
A spec home with a private dock can be seen from the Denny Ashlock footbridge along the Centennial Trail, and another dock was put in farther downstream. Both docks were damaged during spring runoff. The environmental groups say adding 30 private docks to the river will greatly increase boat and jet-ski traffic, and the docks will provide shelter for nonnative predator fish such as smallmouth bass and northern pike, putting even more strain on the native redband trout spawning in the area.
Signs on either end of the Denny Ashlock Bridge remind recreational anglers to protect the redband trout.
Protesters carried signs reading “Block the Dock” and “Save the Fishes” as they floated from Plantes Ferry Park to the Islands Trailhead off Upriver Drive.
No one from Neighborhood Inc. was at the protest.
Spokane Riverkeeper Bart Mihailovich said he was happy with the turnout of about 30 people.
“I think this is a good story about what can happen and what the community can do if people oppose something,” Mihailovich said. “This is not just a single river issue. This is about assuring recreational access to the river and protecting the shorelines.”
Sunday’s protest floaters included many local environmental groups, as well as individuals who wanted to make sure the river is accessible to everyone, Mihailovich said.
“I am happy to see all the diverse interests represented here today,” he said.