The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is calling for the city of Coeur d’Alene to remove hundreds of trees from its levee, which separates North Idaho College and the Fort Grounds neighborhood from Lake Coeur d’Alene.
Rosenberry Drive, otherwise known as the “dike road,” draws thousands of people year-round as a place to park when headed to the college or the beach or events like Art on the Green. A section of North Idaho’s Centennial Trail also stretches along the road and is popular with walkers, joggers and bicyclists.
“I don’t think anybody in our community is going to be thrilled about removing 500 trees,” said Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem. “Obviously, we’re going to try to find a solution other than that.”
Bloem said city officials are reviewing the Army Corps report and looking for alternatives. However, she said, “When you get a mandate from the federal government, you have to consider it and do what’s necessary to get into compliance.”
The Army Corps’ report informed the city that hundreds of trees on the levy are too big and have to be removed because they are destabilizing the soil, said Charles Ifft, a program manager in the federal agency’s Seattle office. If the city declines to remove the trees, he said, it would jeopardize its right to federal assistance in case of a flood.
For the past decade, Ifft has inspected Coeur d’Alene’s levee himself and said he has always “exercised engineering judgment in allowing them (the trees) to stay. They’d always been there.” But, he said, “I was probably taking more of a risk than I should have by saying they could stay. I did not tell (the city) they had to be cut like we’re telling them now.”
Coeur d’Alene’s levee was built by the Army Corps in the 1940s and came with an agreement that it would be maintained according to the corps’ standards for safety and flood control, Ifft said.
After Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, Ifft said, the Army Corps increased scrutiny of levees nationwide. Last spring, the corps hired an independent contractor to perform a more in-depth inspection of the Coeur d’Alene levee. The contractor came back with a report requiring that all the trees on the dike need to go, Ifft said.
In the interim, Ifft said, the levee has been given a “minimally acceptable rating.” If the city doesn’t remove the trees within two years, it would lose its eligibility for federal assistance in the event of a flood.
“I feel for them,” he said. “I know it’s going to be a big deal.”
Officials at North Idaho College also are reviewing the report and plan to meet Friday with city officials to discuss it, said John Martin, NIC’s vice president for community relations.
“Obviously, we’re concerned if we have to remove trees,” Martin said. “Aesthetically, that’s not a really good thing for this area. We’re going to try to find out what our options are.”
Martin said college officials want to make sure “we’re protected but not overreacting to something that may not be an issue. We’re at the very beginning of this process. There will be a lot of discussion and research. We just want to make sure it’s not an overreaction to problems in other parts of the country.”