Environmental groups breathed a sigh of relief last week when the Washington State Court of Appeals ruled that docks installed at the Coyote Rock development in Spokane Valley were illegal, but they were also left wishing the court decision had gone a little further.
The court ruled that only homeowners can apply for a shoreline exemption to install docks, not developers building spec homes. Having reached that decision, the court decided not to examine the issue of whether Spokane Valley and state regulatory agencies are required to consider the cumulative effect of 30 docks in that section of river near Plantes Ferry Park.
“We didn’t lose on that issue, they just didn’t get to it,” said attorney Rick Eichstaedt of Spokane Riverkeeper. His group was one of three that joined the Department of Ecology lawsuit against Spokane Valley and Coyote Rock.
Mike Maher, eastern regional shore lands compliance coordinator with the Department of Ecology, agrees with Eichstaedt. “I guess we are disappointed, but it’s the way those cases usually work,” he said. “Once they reach a conclusion, quite often they don’t address the rest of the issues. I would have liked them to do that. We certainly do have a concern with cumulative impacts.”
The developer of the site is Cliff Mort, president of Coeur d’Alene-based Neighborhood Inc. His company has been advertising the 30 riverfront lots in the development as each coming with a dock.
Maher said he’d like to talk to the developer and discuss how to provide river access without 30 docks and 30 access points. “We can’t support 30 docks,” he said. “It’s too small a reach. It’s a pretty pristine area.”
The Department of Fish and Wildlife granted approval in January 2010 for the developer to install one dock but said installation must occur between June 16 and Aug. 31 to protect spawning fish. The dock was installed in late January or early February in violation of the permit; a second dock was brought in and chained to tree on shore at the same time.
The city didn’t grant a Shoreline Management Act exemption for the first dock until April 21, 2010, and the exemption for the second dock was granted on July 7, 2010. Exemptions are available for docks valued at less than $10,000 that are “for the private non-commercial use of the owner, lessee, or contract purchaser of single and multiple family residences.”
The Department of Fish and Wildlife found evidence that a tractor or heavy equipment of some kind was used to bring the docks to the water, damaging the shoreline in violation of the city’s shoreline ordinance and the Fish and Wildlife permit.
The Department of Ecology issued a notice of correction in February 2010, but enforcement of the notice was put on hold during the court case. Maher said he visited the Coyote Rocks site this week. “They have actually done some restoration where the equipment came in,” he said.
Eichstaedt said that as of now, a three-day trial is still scheduled before the State Pollution Control Board in August on the issue of cumulative impacts of 30 docks. That complaint against the developer was filed by the Spokane Riverkeeper and the Center for Justice.
Whether that case goes forward depends on whether the Court of Appeals decision is appealed to the State Supreme Court, Eichstaedt said. “If this case stands, individual property owners are going to have to apply,” he said. “Our case would really be moot.”
Spokane Valley City Attorney Cary Driskell said he plans to hold an executive session with the City Council Tuesday to discuss whether to appeal the court decision. Mort did not respond to phone messages seeking comment.