December 8, 2011 in City, Idaho

Alliance sues corps over CdA trees

KEA claims environmental impact analysis was required before pine removal order
By The Spokesman-Review

City’s deadline

The corps gave the city two years to fix deficiencies in its flood control equipment after an inspection about a year ago. The city has begun fixing other deficiencies while it continues talks with the corps about options regarding the trees.

The Kootenai Environmental Alliance filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ controversial decision to require the city of Coeur d’Alene to remove hundreds of mature ponderosa pines along Rosenberry Drive.

The lawsuit contends the Army Corps should have performed an environmental analysis of the impact of removing the trees, which the alliance says is required by the National Environmental Policy Act and the corps’ own regulations.

“Our view of it is that the corps never did any environmental impact analysis at all, really,” said Terry Harris, executive director of the Kootenai Environmental Alliance. “They didn’t do it at the program level and they didn’t do it in Coeur d’Alene.”

“I think if they had done it they wouldn’t have ordered the trees to be removed,” he said.

The trees that line the area known as “the dike road” are “central to recreation and aesthetics along the west and south side of North Idaho College and characterize the beach west of City Park,” according to the lawsuit.

The alliance, which is being represented by Rick Eichstaedt of the Gonzaga Environmental Law Clinic, has gathered more than 4,400 signatures from local residents in protest of the corps’ decision, the lawsuit says.

An Army Corps spokeswoman declined to comment, saying corps attorneys have not reviewed the lawsuit.The corps issued a uniform mandate in April 2009 requiring removal of vegetation along the nation’s levees. The alliance says the mandate ignores regional environmental differences, is contrary to the corps’ previous tolerance of trees along levees, and will prove to be a detriment to the city and other communities facing similar mandates.

“I think their own science indicates that trees can actually hold levees together and it depends on a lot of factors, none of which they took a look at,” Harris said. “And this is a big national policy. They’re applying the same rules to every levee in the country, regardless of soil type, or flood conditions, or type of tree or anything.”

A two-year Army Corps study found trees can strengthen levees in some instances and weaken them in others and should be looked at on a case-by-case basis. However, Army Corps officials said in September they weren’t ready to abandon the agency’s existing vegetation policy.

The lawsuit is similar to one filed in California regarding the corps’ requirement that a large swath of vegetation in the Sacramento area be removed, according to the alliance. That lawsuit is pending.

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