Latest from The Spokesman-Review
PADDLING — The drawdown of Priest Lake to its winter level will begin Oct. 8.
The drawdown generally is complete by early November and brings the lake down three feet from a summer elevation of 3,427.64 feet to the winter level of 3,424.64, said Karl Duncan, the dam operator.
The lake’s drawdown also launches the unofficial beginning of the paddling season on Priest River. Generally too low for canoes during the summer season, Priest River takes on new life as flows are increased.
After winding through tree-lined roads or perhaps approaching by boat through ice-blue waters of Priest Lake, you’d be excused for not knowing that inside of Elkins Resort’s rustic log-cabin-style lodge is one of North Idaho’s culinary gems. In operation on the west side of the lake since 1932, Elkins’ cozy dining room consists of 17 tables that are almost all occupied during the summer months. Under the direction of chef Schuyler Price, formerly of Spokane’s Latah Bistro, Elkins has enjoyed a busy summer thus far, serving up a Northwest-centric menu of seafood (like the Alaskan halibut or seafood pasta) along with an array of steaks, including a creative shrimp-and-crab stuffed baseball-cut sirloin. Yes, that’s indeed shrimp and crab inside of a steak. A destination dining spot for the region, Elkins strives to be innovative while also staying true to the restaurant’s history/Mike Bookey, Pacific Northwest Inlander. More here. (Inlander photo)
Question: Have you ever dined at Elkins Resort?
Idaho's state Land Board voted unanimously today to impose restrictive covenants on state-owned cabin sites at Priest Lake, to ensure that the land use there doesn't change as some or all of the lots move to private ownership in the future. A few Priest Lake cabin owners whose cabins are on the state lots objected to the move, saying they didn't want a homeowner's association to enforce restrictions in the future, but most backed them; here, Land Board members hear comments from Priest Lake State Lessees Association President Denny Christensen, who spoke in favor. Kaari Burrows Davies, a dissenter, told the board, "We don't need to now put a homeowners' association in place that's going to cause division or wreck a good system that really is working." Several other cabin owners submitted emails to the board; one, from Neil Maris, said, "Please do not let the voices of a few disgruntled lessees influence your decision. They DO NOT speak for us!"
The state is moving toward possible land exchanges to rid the state endowment of the lakefront cabin sites after years of struggle to charge appropriate rents; the endowment is required by the Idaho Constitution to be managed for maximum long-term returns to its beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state's public schools. The Idaho Supreme Court recently overturned as unconstitutional a state law that protected the cabin sites from conflict auctions when leases come up.
The board, which consists of the state's top elected officials, held a special meeting today, after it put off the issue at its last regular meeting to request a formal legal opinion from Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. That opinion was delivered, and it found that the board has the authority to impose restrictive covenants on the land; it doesn't need leaseholders' consent to do so; and the standard that should govern the board's actions is its fiduciary responsibility to the endowment's beneficiaries. State consultants and Land Board staffers said covenants would protect the value of remaining state endowment land in the area once some cabin sites change ownership.
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa made the motion to approve the staff's recommendation to impose covenants on the cabin lots, citing the constitutional requirement to maximize long-term income for the beneficiaries. "In my humble opinion, I think CC&R's will do that," he said. His motion passed unanimously, with all five Land Board members present; in addition to Ysursa, they include Wasden; state schools Superintendent Tom Luna; acting state Controller Brandon Woolf; and Gov. Butch Otter, who chairs the board.
NATIONAL FORESTS — A week after a storm and brief surge of hurricane-force winds swept through the region, areas around Priest Lake and especially the Colville National Forest are still clogged with downed trees.
The good news is that powerline crews, government agencies and private citizens have been working their butts off with chain saws and equipment to make progress. The bad news is that some areas are a big mess and still unaccessible.
Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area reports all campgrounds and facilities are open. Priest Lake Range Station reported that some trails got "hammered" with blowdowns, but no specific reports were available. Forest trail crews and volunteers had just finished a logging out 192 miles of trails on the Priest Lake District the week before the storm struck, killing a man in his pickup in the Priest Lake area.
Generally, the Panhandle National Forests came out of the dangerous storm fairly well, said Jason Kirchner, forest spokesman in Coeur d'Alene.
But the Colville Forest's Republic Ranger District and portions of the Collville Indian Reservation, where assistance is still being requested, are a different story.
Here's the word from Colville Forest spokesman Franklin Pemberton:
The impact to recreation specific to the Republic R.D. from this event is severe.
Crews have made significant progress on getting all of the main forest service (FS) roads open and "passible". All of the main FS roads are passible for a full-size pickup truck, but motorhomes, camp trailers and horse trailers are not recommended. Work continues to open all of the main FS roads completely to larger size vehicles such as ambulances and fire engines and is expected to be completed by this Friday. Many secondary FS roads remain blocked by down timber and will be opened once all the main roads are completed.
Many roads to trailheads remain blocked and trail conditions are being reported as being blocked by down timber. All campgrounds are open with the exception of Ten Mile Campground. Crews will continue to work to open secondary roads that lead to recreation sites and trailheads, but there is no estimate of when this work will be completed.
Forest officials are still recommending that visitors to the Republic R.D. stay in the developed campgrounds and limit their travel on the forest as much as possible.
Contact the Republic Ranger District Office, (509) 775-7400 for specific recreation questions.
ROCK CLIMBING — Climbers were humbled earlier this month to find a massive rock fall had wiped out a generation of climbing routes on the east face of Chimney Rock, a landmark on the skyline east of Priest Lake.
And the danger lingers.
The collapse of rock from the near-vertical face erased rock flakes used in many pioneering climbs on the iconic granite pillar in the Selkirk Mountains.
Classic lines now gone include Magnum Force, a route first free-climbed in 1967 by Spokane Mountaineers John Roskelley and Chris Kopczynski.
“Many tons of Inland Northwest climbing history are now part of the boulder field at the base,” said Dane Burns, one of the rock’s pioneering climbers.
"From the splitter crack line of Yahoody left all the routes are now gone. That includes but not limited to the Beckey/Cooper South Nose route, later freed by Roskelley and Kopczynski and renamed Magnum Force, Kimmie, named after our friend Kim Momb and UNI the first trad 5.12 crack done in the inland NW.”
Zach Turner, who reported the rockfall on July 5, noted the east face has a swath of new routes to be pioneered, but warned climbers more unstable rock appears to be hanging on the wall.
See Turner's post with before and after photos of the Chimney Rock east face and a list of the climbing routes affected.
As Idaho moves toward transferring hundreds of state-owned cabin sites on scenic Priest Lake to private owners through land exchanges or auctions, the state wants to protect the value of the land - and nearby state endowment land - through restrictive covenants. Most Priest Lake cabin owners who now own their cabins, but not the land, are on board with the idea, but some are objecting.
The restrictions would keep in place current regulations limiting the sites to single-family homes, rather than condos, resorts or commercial development; ban mobile homes; require earth tones and "unobtrusive" construction; and require erosion control and defensible space to cut wildfire risk. Restrictive covenants aren't being proposed for similar cabin sites on Payette Lake to the south, but that's because those cabin sites are within the McCall city area of impact, subjecting them to restrictive zoning regulations. That's not true of the Priest Lake sites, where Bonner County's current zoning regulations could permit a variety of changes if the land became privately owned.
Gov. Butch Otter requested a formal legal opinion from Attorney General Lawrence Wasden on the matter today; once the board receives that in a week or so, it'll set a special meeting to decide on the covenants. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Owners of cabins at Priest Lake, like this 1930s one that retired school teachers Jim and Myrna Brown spent years renovating in the hopes that it could be a family legacy, are facing increased uncertainty after the Idaho Supreme Court decision overturning a state law that protected state-owned cabin site leases from conflict bidding. The ruling affects 354 cottage sites at Priest Lake and 167 at Payette Lake. S-R reporter Sara McMullen takes a look at the issues here; cabin owners, who own their cabins but not the state-owned ground underneath, already are in the midst of working with the state in the Land Board's effort to "unify" ownership of cabin sites, through land exchanges and other steps.
The Idaho Supreme Court ruled that leases of state-owned cabin sites, like those on Payette and Priest lakes, are subject to competitive conflict auctions when the leases come up, striking down a state law that exempted the cottage sites. You can read the court's full decision here, and click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
The Idaho Supreme Court ruled that leases of state-owned cabin sites, like those on Payette and Priest lakes, are subject to competitive conflict auctions when the leases come up, striking down a state law that exempted the cottage sites. You can read the court's full decision here.
- H/T: Eye on Boise
Here's Congressman Raul Labrador's reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of Chantelle & Mike Sackett of Priest Lake: “I am overjoyed by the unanimous ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of my constituents, Chantelle and Mike Sackett of Priest Lake, in their case against the EPA. The federal government is an intimidating force against ordinary citizens, and standing up to its bureaucracy requires extraordinary bravery. Thanks to the unwavering courage and selfless sacrifice of the Sacketts, Americans everywhere will be guaranteed the right to appeal a decision imposed by a government agency. Their victory also safeguards individual property rights against the encroachment of the federal government, a fundamental assurance of our Constitution. The EPA is one of the many federal government agencies whose overreach jeopardizes our civil liberties and obstructs our pursuit of prosperity."
Question: Do you consider the EPA to be an overreaching, intimidating force against ordinary citizens?
A Priest Lake, Idaho, couple has prevailed in a property rights case involving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The U.S. supreme Court today ruled in favor of Mike and Chantell Sackett, ruling they can go to court to challenge an EPA order that blocked construction of their new home and threatened fines of more than $30,000 a day. The Sackett’s property has sat undisturbed since the EPA ordered a halt in work in 2007. The agency said part of the property was a wetland that could not disturbed without a permit. In an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, the court rejected EPA’s argument that allowing property owners quick access to courts to contest orders like the one issued to the Sacketts would compromise the agency’s ability to deal with water pollution/SR & AP Wire. More here. (Kathy Plonka SR file photo: Chantell and MikeSackett talk about their battle with the Environmental Protection Agency over their right to build a home on a lot near Priest Lake)
Question: Do you support this decision?
The Supreme Court has sided with an Idaho couple in a property rights case, the Associated Press reports, ruling they can go to court to challenge an Environmental Protection Agency order that blocked construction of their new home and threatened fines of more than $30,000 a day. Wednesday's decision is a victory for Mike and Chantell Sackett, whose property near a scenic lake has sat undisturbed since the EPA ordered a halt in work in 2007. The agency said part of the property was a wetlands that could not disturbed without a permit; click below for a full report from AP reporter Mark Sherman in Washington, D.C.
Chantell and Mike Sackett talk about their battle with the Environmental Protection Agency over their right to build a home on a lot near Priest Lake on Oct. 19.(SRPhoto/Kathy Plonka) Read Becky Kramer's story here.
By Sean Cockerham,firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court appeared sympathetic Monday to an Idaho couple’s fight to build their dream home over the objections of the Environmental Protection Agency, in a case that could have far broader implications and limit the EPA’s ability to regulate developers, energy companies and others.
Justice Samuel Alito said homeowners could relate to the situation of Idahoans Michael and Chantell Sackett.
“Don’t you think most ordinary homeowners would say this kind of thing can’t happen in the United States?” Alito asked the lawyer arguing for the government during oral arguments in the case Monday.
Alito called the EPA’s conduct “outrageous.” Justice Antonin Scalia spoke of the agency’s “high-handedness.”
The broad issue is whether landowners hit by EPA compliance orders should be allowed to immediately sue to overturn those orders, rather than waiting for the EPA to go to court to force compliance.
The case could have far-reaching implications, with environmental groups saying a Sackett victory could allow big corporate polluters to tie up the EPA in court instead of dealing with the problem.
The Sackett case has become a conservative rallying cry, with anti-EPA talk from radio hosts, lawmakers and business groups touting it as an example of an agency run amok. Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo said, “This is what happens when an overzealous federal agency would rather force compliance than give any consideration to private property rights, individual rights, basic decency or common sense.”
The legal storm began after the Sacketts filled in dirt and rock on their property for a home they were building on about a half-acre near scenic Priest Lake in North Idaho.
Officials from the EPA appeared and asked the Sacketts whether they had a permit to fill in wetlands under the Clean Water Act. The EPA subsequently told the Sacketts to “remove all unauthorized fill material” and plant trees and bushes, saying the couple faced potential fines of up to $37,500 a day if they didn’t fully comply with the directive.
The Sacketts dispute the assertion that the land, which is in a subdivision, is really wetlands, and they challenged the EPA’s authority. The conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, which signed on to represent the Sacketts for free, argues landowners should get to challenge EPA compliance orders in court because otherwise they’re just at the mercy of the threat of big fines.
GE, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Association of Home Builders and 10 states filed court briefs in support of the Sacketts, underscoring the potential broad implications of the Idaho couple’s case.
The EPA says directives such as the one the Sacketts received are essentially just warnings with the goal of negotiating a solution. The government says a court challenge shouldn’t be allowed until the EPA actually goes to a judge in an attempt to seek enforcement of the order.
“It is phrased as an order. But the only thing that EPA is authorized to do … is to order people to do what they were already legally required to do. That is, order them to comply with their legal obligations,” Justice Department attorney Malcolm Stewart argued Monday.
A Boise-based trial judge, appointed by President George H.W. Bush, and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sided with the EPA’s position in the case. So have the nation’s other four appellate circuits in similar cases.
It’s unusual for the Supreme Court to take up an issue when there has been such unanimous agreement among all the lower courts, leading to speculation that the high court’s conservative majority decided to hear the Idaho couple’s case because it is intent on striking a blow to the powers of the EPA.
The Supreme Court’s ruling in the case might not come until June, but it was clear at Monday’s hearing that justices were skeptical of the EPA’s position. Justice Stephen Breyer said he read the order and that it didn’t seem to him like a warning, but a government demand.
The EPA says the Sacketts should have sought a permit and that the couple did not consult with the agency or the Army Corps of Engineers before filling the land.
The Sacketts say they had no reason to suspect their land would be considered wetlands. An environmental group produced documents under the Freedom of Information Act, though, showing the couple disregarded the opinion of a wetlands expert.
Michael Sackett said Monday after the arguments that the man took just a cursory look at the property, spending less than half an hour and never shoveling down into the ground.
Sackett, who called it a “David versus Goliath” case, said he can’t see how his property, 500 feet from Priest Lake in an existing subdivision with a sewer hookup, can be considered wetlands that demand protection.
WINTER SPORTS — Technology has made it easier than ever to monitor snow conditions at the region's mountain passes and winter sports resorts.
Click on the following links for web cam views of your favorite Inland Northwest ski area or the road to get there.
IDAHO Web Cams
- All Idaho Highways
- Fourth of July Pass
- Lookout Pass
- Palouse Divide (ID-6, Harvard Hill)
- Priest Lake
- Schweitzer Mountain
- Silver Mountain
WASHINGTON Web Cams
- All Washington Highways
- Blewett Pass
- 49 Degrees North
- Loup Loup
- Mount Rainier
- Mount Spokane
- Sherman Pass
- Snoqualmie Pass
- Stevens Pass
- White Pass
MONTANA Web Cams
CANADA Web Cams
WINTER SPORTS — Technology has made it easier than ever to monitor snow conditions for the region's mountain passes and winter sports resorts.
Click on the following links for web cam views of your favorite North Idaho ski area or the road to get there.
IDAHO Web Cams
Well, it seems we’ve touched a nerve over at the Sacramento-based Pacific Legal Foundation. They are NOT pleased with our recent blog posting about the Priest Lake wetland case. Pacific Legal Foundation represents the Sacketts in their procedural fight with the EPA. Of course, the “PLF Liberty Blog” doesn’t really take issue with our analysis. Mostly they are critical of our lack of outrage over the EPA’s use of their Clean Water Act authority. And they are critical of our emphasis on the procedural nuance lost in the broadly anti-EPA Fox News coverage. So, to be fair we will officially admit it — we’re as ideologically-driven as they are. But our outrage is more typically reserved for people who bulldoze wetlands without a permit/Terry Harris, KEA Blog. More here.
DFO: Am I the only one who reads the name Sackett and thinks first of the fictional Louis L'Amour family?
Question: Don't you love it when blogs mix it up?
Idaho Sen. Jim Risch will appear on the Fox Business Network for an interview with Lou Dobbs tonight, discussing government regulations and the case of Mike and Chantell Sackett of North Idaho, who the EPA says are attempting to build their home on a wetland. The interview will air live at 5:25 p.m. Mountain time, 4:25 p.m. Pacific time. The Sacketts bought their Priest Lake-area property for $23,000 in 2005; the 0.6-acre lot on the west side of the lake is surround by several other homes and has a sewer hookup. But when they moved to build a home, the EPA told them their land was a wetland; they've appealed all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which plans to take up their case in January. You can read more about the case here.
A Priest Lake couple is headed for the U.S. Supreme Court over a land use dispute with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that should have never occurred, according to Members of the Idaho Congressional Delegation. Mike and Chantell Sackett were in Washington, D.C., today as part of a forum convened by Senator Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) and attended by Idaho Senator Mike Crapo, Idaho Senator Jim Risch and Idaho Representative Raúl Labrador. “This is what happens when an over-zealous federal agency would rather force compliance than give any consideration to private property rights, individual rights, basic decency or common sense,” Crapo told the Sacketts. Crapo is a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), with oversight of the EPA. He said when Congress wrote the Clean Water Act, it was never intended to authorize actions against citizens such as those that the EPA has engaged in against the Sacketts/U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, news release. More here. And: Pacific Legal Foundation take on the case here.
- Back Story: High court takes on Idaho property case/Becky Kramer, SR
Question: Do you agree/disagree w/Idaho delegation re: this case involving a Priest Lake couple?
PUBLIC LANDS — Recreation is being curtailed as fire fighters are getting a handle on the 640-acre Birthday fire, which is burning on the Crest of the Selkirk Mountans northeast of Priest Lake and about 20 air miles northwest of Bonners Ferry.
The fire is centered near in the subalpine regions of Abandon Mountain, which is south of West Fork Lake and north of Lions Head. The Forest Service and Idaho Department of lands have closed many popular roads and recreational trails in the area.
Road, trail, and area closures include:
- FS Road 281, from its junction with FSR655; the entire length of Trail 21 (starting at West Fork Trailhead to the junction with Trail 102) and the entire length of Trail 347 (starting at Trail 21, to its termination at West Fork Mountain);
- FS Road 2545 (from the junction with Road 655 to its termination); the entire length of Trail 102 (starting at Hidden Lake trailhead, to its termination at Road 281);
- FS Road 2443 from the junction with Road 281; the entire length of Trail 17 (starting at the trailhead on road 2443); and the entire length of Trail 18 (starting at Cutoff Peak, ending at Smith Triangulation.)
Idaho Department of Lands also may be restricting access to the Lookout Mountain area northeast of Upper Priest Lake.
Detailed descriptions of closures, as well as an area closure map are posted on the “Birthday Fire” link on www.inciweb.org.
LAKES — Avista Utilities and the Corps of Engineers are beginning fall drawdowns that change the look of the lakes and rivers downstream.
•Lake Coeur d’Alene’s annual drawdown began Tuesday to gradually take the summer level of 2,128 feet down to 2,127 by the end of September. The winter level of 2,122 feet should be reached by the end of December.
•Priest Lake’s drawdown begins in the middle of October, marking the unofficial beginning of the paddling season on the Priest River. Generally too low for canoes during the summer season, Priest River takes on new life as flows are increased.
Priest Lake is lowered relatively quickly by 3 feet to its winter level by early November.
•Lake Pend Oreille’s slow drawdown is set to begin soon, but not until Idaho Fish and Game, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Bonneville Power Administration meet this week to negotiate a target level. Idaho Fish and Game mainly is concerned about maintaining water levels for optimum kokanee spawning.
Preliminary results from late summer surveys indicate the lake’s kokanee continue an encouraging recovery from their crash, officials said Friday.
LAKES — Bonner County commissioners approved a 14-lot subdivision at the north end of Priest Lake on Wednesday despite a torrent of objections from neighboring landowners, their attorneys and two environmental groups, according the the Bonner County Daily Bee.
Opponents of the expansion contend the project will displace a dwindling amount of critical wildlife habitat and harm the hydrology of a high-quality wetland.
Pecky Cox/As The Lake Churns reminds her Facebook Friends this afternoon that it was just over a year ago (July 16, 2010) that some cad burned the famous Shoe Tree of Priest Lake. The jerk has never been brought to justice. You can read the Huckleberries Online report of the arson here. And you can see a YouTube video of individuals lamenting the loss of the tree here.
Did you know Ben Stein is a hotly-desired sex symbol? No? Clearly you're not reading his work. In the 66-year-old's Friday column in The American Spectator, Stein (actor/lawyer/economist/game show host/conservative pundit) chronicles his latest trip to the beach and what ensues is raw physical attraction. It all takes place at Priest Lake, Idaho where he's hanging out with his "pals" Ray and Jeannie Lucia and Jo and Susan Lucia/John Hudson, Atlantic Wire. More here. (AP file photo, of actor Ben Stein)
Question: Do you consider anyone older than 60 to be "sexy"?
STATE PARKS — Severe storm damage has forced a temporary closure at the Indian Creek Unit of Priest Lake State Park, officials said Thursday.
The campground and day use facilities including the boat launch are closed until May 25.
Meantime, the Lionhead Unit and Dickensheet Unit are open.
Info: Priest Lake State Park, (208) 443-2200.
“Renovations will give the entire campground a facelift and will include new rest rooms, water and sewer lines, pavement, extended camping spurs, picnic tables and fire rings,” said Priest Lake District Ranger Glenn Klingler.
“I think when people pitch their tents at Outlet Campground in 2012 they will agree that the renovations were worth the wait.”
Construction activities in the campground are expected to begin this spring and will last throughout the summer.
Alternative camping opportunities at Priest Lake are available at Lower Luby and Reeder Bay campgrounds, which open May 13, and at Upper Luby, Osprey and Beaver Creek campgrounds, which open May 27.
Info: Priest Lake Ranger District, (208) 443-6845.
4 North Idaho lakes are featured in Seattle magazine's 28-page "Lake Escapes" section now on the newstands. Online, Seattle mag promotes the section with this intro: "We are delighted to share our love of North Idaho and the area’s many spectacular lakes. From the pristine waters of Priest Lake and the world-class resort amenities of Lake Coeur d’Alene, to the vast beauty of Lake Pend Oreille and the quiet magic of Hayden Lake, this region truly sparkles with natural beauty, and offers endless opportunity for outdoor adventure and fun. In this site, we’ll explore a variety of destinations and activities, including hotels and resorts, dining, sports and recreation, tourist attractions, events & festivals." See section here. (As The Lake Churns photo: Pecky Cox)
Question: Which North Idaho lake do you consider the greatest escape?
The Environmental Protection Agency has become, for some of libertarian or Tea Party convictions, something of an embodiment of government run amok. Environmentalists see the agency, at its best, as the defender of people’s health and the environment’s welfare. It is instructive to see what happens when these two worldviews are superimposed on the construction of one single-family home that is either in (from the E.P.A’s point of view) or near (from the property owners’ perspective) wetlands in the woods of the Idaho panhandle/Felicity Barringer, New York Times Green Blog. More here.
Question: How do you view the Environmental Protection Agency?
On her As The Lake Churns, Pecky Cox provides this photo & others taken this morning on Priest Lake's Kalispell Bay. E-mails Pecky: "Windstorm two nights ago brought pieces of ice to this area.Cold temperatures froze the lake, again." You can see more photos of "Marble Lake" on her blog site here.
Pecky Cox/As the Lake Churns tells of a rescue of a deer on ice at Priest Lake's Kalispell Bay. Pecky took photos while she and her husband, Fred, tried to rescue this critter about 1 p.m. today. At 4 degrees, sez Pecky, this wasn't "as fun as it seems. The deer kept running back away from us toward the ice. We had to get him out three different times." Pecky cracked one of her camera lenses in the process. But "we are all fine — all three of us."
WILDLIFE — Priest Lake’s resident blogger Pecky Cox used her every-ready camera to capture this whitetail buck against the moon beams reflecting off the water. The photo is posted on her “As the Lake Churns” website.