A plan to build a 2.5-million-gallon sewage lagoon on an island in the Clark Fork River is an environmental disaster in the making, opponents of the project said Thursday.
About 25 people, including an environmental group and handful of Derr Island residents, protested the lagoon at a public hearing before Bonner County planners.
“It does not take the proverbial rocket scientist to recognize that this sewer lagoon threatens Derr Island as we know it,” said island dweller Dave Lisaius.
“What we have here is a huge pool of septic tank liquid … poised at the mouth of Lake Pend Oreille,” he said, adding that it was outrageous to even consider the island for such a project.
Derr Island, about 30 miles east of Sandpoint, has only six residents. Five of those, including humor novelist Pat McManus, live there only in the summer. Another 38 lots exist on the island, but Lisaius said those have been for sale for 28 years and there is no need for a lagoon to serve up to 60 homes.
The lagoon project is spearheaded by Jim White, a Clark Fork contractor who owns nearly half of the 370-acre island. White said he needs the lagoon in order to sell the remaining parcels of land, which are worthless without an approved septic system.
White actually started building the lagoon more than a year ago. But he just now is seeking the proper permit from the county.
The planning commission still was hearing testimony Thursday night and had not made a decision on the proposal.
However, the project has been opposed by all the island residents, the city of Clark Fork and was not recommended for approval by the county planning staff.
Most of the state environmental agencies that reviewed the project were also concerned about the lagoon saying it posed a “great risk” for polluting ground water, the river and lake.
“There cannot be the slightest doubt that this lagoon will turn the wetlands and river channels on the island into a single gigantic cess-pool,” McManus said. “I have been told by experts that this system will never work and that it is an environmental disaster waiting to happen.”
To try and appease residents, White did modify his plans before the hearing. He originally intended to build a clay-lined lagoon. That would have leached 500 gallons of effluent a day into the ground.
White now is proposing to use a synthetic liner to stop leaks. He also agreed to aerate the pond to cut down on the smell.
But an engineer and expert soil scientist hired by island residents picked the project apart and said the lagoon system won’t work. They also said White’s land application proposal, the spraying of liquid from the lagoon onto fields, will pollute ground water.
“This proposal for a sewage lagoon … on a gravel bar island in the Clark Fork River is fatally flawed,” soil scientist Pierre Bordenave said, urging planners to reject the project.
Douglas Siddoway, an attorney for the residents, concurred.
“What Mr. White is proposing is wrong for the island, wrong for the people who will be affected by it and wrong for the long-term preservation of water quality in the Clark Fork River and Lake Pend Oreille.”
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