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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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River dredger must be punished

The Spokesman-Review

Sharla Giese wonders whether Spokane River neighbor Thomas Hamilton is arrogant or ignorant — or both.

It’s an understandable question. Hamilton surreptitiously carved a 200-foot “boot” into the bank of the Spokane River to provide a boat slip closer to his home. But it won’t take long for Mother Nature to clog his man-made slip with silt, forcing him to dredge every year or so — if regulatory agencies permit.

He shouldn’t be allowed another chance to muddy the waters near his place, annoy neighbors and destroy wetlands.

At a minimum, Hamilton should be required to restore his riverside property to its previous condition and to pay heavy fines for ordering the excavation work without obtaining all the proper permits. At a maximum, he should have the book thrown at him for his blatant disregard of the Spokane River, wildlife habitat and his neighbors’ quality of life. Hamilton deserves to be taught a lesson for muddying the waters without necessary permits — one that will serve as a warning to other waterfront owners that certain behavior won’t be tolerated.

Late Friday, workers rolled heavy equipment onto Hamilton’s property to begin carving a boat slip near his upscale home at daybreak Saturday — in violation of the county site disturbance ordinance and possible state and federal regulations. By bulldozing ahead with his plans rather than obtaining necessary permits, Hamilton eschewed public comment until the work was done, riverfront neighbors were angry and the river was transformed into something Giese described as “dirty, filthy, icky.”

The days are long gone when anyone with a bulldozer and a half-baked idea could intrude on wetlands or waterways. Now, most people know the importance of waterfowl habitat; of protecting the endangered Spokane River from water degradation, silt and other harmful runoff; and of getting along with neighbors who share a unique section of paradise. Those who ignore the rules should pay for their ignorance.

At the Kootenai County Courthouse, Rand Wichman, director of building and planning, said the county commissioners, prosecutor and his office are “all of one mind” in prosecuting their case against Hamilton. Under the county site disturbance ordinance, Hamilton could be facing a misdemeanor charge each day the violation continues, with a daily penalty of a $300 fine and six months in jail. Also, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Idaho Department of Lands are investigating the dredging.

“People can’t go out and just rape and pillage and expect to get away with it,” Wichman said.

According to Wichman, the county has encountered two recent incidents where landowners tried to fill in area lakes “to create real estate,” but Hamilton’s violation “ranks right up there at the top for someone doing so much so blatantly.” Ultimately, it’ll be up to the courts to take this environmental outrage seriously. Kootenai County needs to send a strong message to other property owners.

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