Residents around Garfield Bay on Lake Pend Oreille are starting to outnumber the fish these days.
The problem is: While fish seem to get along swimmingly, people don’t always do so well.
Such is the case with the owners of the Garfield Bay Resort and their neighbors.
The dispute centers around a spit of land near the bay’s inlet that has been turned into a sandy picnic area for guests of the resort.
According to the neighborhood homeowners association, the entrance to the spit should have a sign that says, “Property of Ponderosa Home Site Owners. No open fires, camping or motorized vehicles allowed. Hours of use, 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.”
Instead, the sign that is posted reads, “Private Drive. Garfield Bay Resort Patrons only.”
The property is part of plans for a 119-slip marina that’s being developed by Frank Thayer and his wife, Rita Walker Thayer, who bought the resort in 1991.
The property has served as a resort since the 1960s. The original docks and boat slips had fallen into disrepair over the years. What was left of the old slips was washed ashore as a result of winds from firestorm ‘91.
“The docks that are there aren’t in good shape,” said Keith Snyder, who runs a fishing outfitter business in the summer. Not only that, but boat traffic is up, and the other marina in the bay is almost out of slips.
“There’s definitely a need for a marina,” Snyder said. “The lake’s more populated than it’s ever been.”
Last week, the lake was quiet as Bill Hoffman and his nephew Charlie Hoffman went fishing off the resort’s beach. Charlie was on spring break from Lakeland Junior High, visiting his grandparents who live on the bay.
He wasn’t sure he wanted a marina developed there.
“Every time there’s a marina, we can’t swim off it,” he said.
The locals say that everyone’s welcome to use the Thayers’ shoreline - everyone except the Doves, that is.
Steve Dove purchased his lot in the Ponderosa subdivision about the same time the Thayers first bought property there in 1989.
Soon after, the lot owners signed an agreement that the lot marked “Lake Access” could not be used for commercial purposes and would be posted for public use.
Later, the Thayers purchased the marina and the lots surrounding the lake-access one, which is the property in dispute.
Dove and his father, Clifford, have done just about everything they can to slow or stop construction on the marina.
On Tuesday, the elder Dove is scheduled to make his case against the resort before the state Land Board.
The meeting represents the culmination of a two-year battle that has cost the Thayers time and money, landed Steve Dove in handcuffs, caused a neighbor to put his house up for sale and put the Doves in the position of salmon saviors.
After the Thayers applied for an encroachment permit from the state to rebuild the breakwater, docks and boat slips, Steve Dove voiced his opposition.
“I don’t know what his problem is,” Thayer said.
Many people around Garfield Bay view the resort dispute as one of neighbor vs. neighbor.
One elderly summer resident, finding his peace and quiet disturbed by the feud, is selling his house, said Rusty Shoopman, who runs the local grocery store with her husband, Clyde.
“Everyone wants to improve the bay, but the neighbors fight you,” she said.
The Shoopmans and others welcome the business a new resort would bring. Their concerns revolve more around parking and the road to their isolated - but growing - community.
“In the time I’ve been here, the traffic’s tripled” on Garfield Bay Road, Snyder said, who has operated his outfitting business there for about seven years.
Supporters of the Thayers are quick to point out that the bay at one time had five resorts with boat slips. Now, there’s only one large marina for a growing number of boats.
“It’s ironic when someone who’s contentious about resort activities and growth chooses to live next to a resort,” noted bay resident and Bonner County Commissioner Steve Klatt.
Will Pitman, who administers the Lake Protection Act in North Idaho, has stopped assuming that issuing encroachment permits is a routine matter. Since 1994, more often than not the permits are challenged, he said.
“I just got a feeling that people don’t like change,” Pitman said. “They have theirs, and they don’t want anybody to have theirs.”
After the Doves challenged the resort, the Thayers got a quit claim deed from the original heirs to the lake-access lot.
In turn, the Ponderosa Homeowners cut off the Thayers from the community well, forcing the resort owners to drill a new $30,000 well.
When the Thayers hired contractors to carve out the shoreline last spring, Steve Dove came onto the property to photograph the operation. The Thayers said he interfered with the heavy equipment and placed him under citizen’s arrest.
A sheriff’s deputy handcuffed Dove and hauled him off.
The trespassing case was dismissed, but the photos Dove took resulted in a violation notice from the U.S. Corps of Engineers, which agreed that too much shoreline was excavated, causing excessive erosion in the lake.
The erosion didn’t win fans among locals who remember back 30 years when a fisherman could catch 400 kokanee salmon in a day. The silt has a habit of washing up onto kokanee spawning beds and clogging them.
“After Frank (Thayer) did his thing, every storm would turn this bay brown,” said Harbor Marine manager Jim Baldwin. “It didn’t go over very well.”
The Doves complained and the Corps of Engineers ordered the Thayers to place rock on the shore to slow erosion. They allowed the resort to use gravel, instead of larger rock, as a compromise.
In a report to Pitman at the Department of Lands, engineering geologist Larry Morrison said the gravel largely was ineffective in either protecting the shoreline or the salmon.
“The kokanee spawning issue resulted in gravel being placed in an area that is usually dry during the kokanee spawning season,” Morrison wrote.
Morrison’s report likely will be read by the governor and other members of the Land Board Tuesday. If the board agrees with the engineer, Thayer will be free to continue his marina project.
After reviewing the entire dispute, Morrison concluded, “The whole situation would be comical if it were not for the expenditures of time and money that have been forced on the marina developer and regulatory personnel.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Map of Lake Pend Oreille
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