Hydroplane races hinge on county code change

There’s a new hurdle for Coeur d’Alene’s hydroplane races scheduled for Labor Day weekend.

Kootenai County is working on a new review process for hydroplane races on Lake Coeur d’Alene after the county’s community development director determined the land portion of the event isn’t allowed under current code.

David Callahan joined the county in November, after the Coeur d’Alene Diamond Cup’s hydroplane races took place Labor Day weekend. The races were the first on the lake since 1968.

The 2013 hydroplane races were permitted “mostly as an aquatic event,” Callahan said, without much consideration to staging areas on the shore. “I don’t think the county knew much about the land portion of the event. My staff wasn’t fully informed.”

County commissioners alerted Diamond Cup President Doug Miller in October that he would need a conditional use permit for the 2014 hydroplane races. But the race’s onshore areas along East Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive are part of a suburban agriculture zone, where special events aren’t allowed, Callahan said.

“You can’t apply for something that’s not allowed in that zoning district,” he said of the conditional use permit.

Instead, Callahan has proposed changing county code to allow the Diamond Cup’s application to be considered through an administrative process. The code amendment will be discussed at the June 26 planning commission meeting. If approved, it would be sent to the county commissioners for a decision July 10.

Since time is running short for the approval process, Callahan said he has invited Miller to submit an early application to the county for a courtesy review, which would provide an early alert on any potential problems.

Miller said the Diamond Cup is further along in the permitting process than it was at this time last year for the Labor Day weekend races, and that he’s comfortable with the county’s timeline. “It’s all going to happen,” he said.

If the hydroplane races can attract 30,000 paying viewers this year, Miller said he’ll be able to pay off remaining debts from last year’s Diamond Cup as well as meet expenses from the current year. Last year, he said that thousands of people watched the races from land and water without paying admission.

Adrienne Cronebaugh, executive director for the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, said she hopes county officials don’t grant any special favors to Miller to expedite the permit processing. KEA opposes the return of hydroplane racing on Lake Coeur d’Alene because of concerns about potential impacts on water quality.

“I think Doug Miller has a lot to get together,” she said.

The Diamond Cup must secure a variety of state and local permits for the hydroplane races to take place this year.

In addition to the county hearings, the Idaho Department of Lands has scheduled a hearing to take public comment on Diamond Cup’s proposal for a three-year permit to place 98 concrete anchors in the lake for the spectator boat tie-up area, with each anchor weighing about 3,500 pounds. The proposal calls for several miles of polyester lines for the race course that would lie on the lake’s bottom between this year’s race and later races.

In 2013, Diamond Cup organizers used a lighter-weight line that floated and snagged fishing gear after the race. “We thought (the lines) had been taken care of until we started getting complaints,” said Jim Brady, IDL’s resource supervisor for lands and waterways in North Idaho.

Miller said the line was removed from the lake in January.

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