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News >  Idaho

Communities still at odds over marina

During the summer months, power boats speed past Darwin Berg’s family farm on the Pend Oreille River.

The river tapers there, creating a natural congestion point, according to Berg. Flotillas of boats headed downstream from Lake Pend Oreille encounter upstream traffic from the Idaho river communities of Laclede and Priest River.

That’s why Berg has questions about a 274-slip marina proposed across the river from him in Dover, Idaho.

“This is the narrow neck,” he said in a Thursday phone interview. “The boats are used to going flat out on this stretch. … It would be a recipe for disaster.”

Berg was one of 110 people who attended a public hearing Wednesday on the proposed marina. The hearing, conducted by the Idaho Department of Lands, produced 2½ hours of testimony.

Some, like Berg, said the marina sticks out too far into the river. Bald eagles and bull trout use that stretch of water, which generated concerns about the marina’s impact on wildlife. But the marina also had supporters, who said the Pend Oreille River needs more public access points for boating and other recreation.

“We’re trying to make the connection between people and the water,” said the marina’s developer, Ralph Sletegar. “I believe the water, even when you’re just looking at it, has a little bit of magic. … The public owns the river. We’re providing access to locals and visitors alike.”

The marina is part of Dover Bay, a 535-unit housing development Sletegar plans to build on an old sawmill site in the community of about 400 residents.

Both the housing and the marina would be phased-in developments, Sletegar said. The first phase of the marina would include 100 to 150 boat slips. Additional slips would be built according to market demand, he said.

Sletegar has already reconfigured the marina design once to address width concerns.

The Pend Oreille River is about 1,900 feet wide at the proposed site. The new marina design would stick out 400 feet into the water, compared with the 577-foot width of the original.

Even with 200-foot no-wake zones, that still leaves roughly 1,100 feet of space for boats to pass each other, Sletegar said.

“We put an overlay of Interstate 90 on top of the (river) map, to help people get an idea for it,” he said

Berg – who lives across the river – said he prefers a marina to a proliferation of private docks. But he’d prefer to see the marina built at the easterly end of Sletegar’s property, where the river is wider.

Sletegar said that’s not practical. The chosen site incorporates an existing boat launch, built by the Navy in the 1980s for submarines. It has the best configuration for a parking lot, Sletegar said, and it lies adjacent to land he plans to donate to the city of Dover for a park.

The Idaho Department of Lands, one of two agencies involved in marina permitting, plans to make a decision on the project by Feb. 7. Sletegar also needs a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The presence of bald eagles and bull trout could complicate the corps’ permit. Both species are protected under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent a letter to the corps, indicating that a biological evaluation prepared for the marina project underestimated the potential threat to the species. The corps needs to initiate a formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the marina project, the letter said.

Bald eagles have two nests within a mile the proposed marina. They also use that stretch of river for foraging and bathing. Human activity during the nesting season can cause eagles to abandon a breeding area, the letter said.

The corps should restrict construction work during the nesting season – from January to July – to avoid disturbing the nest, the letter said. It also outlined stronger actions to reduce the marina’s impact on bull trout.

Bull trout would pass by the marina twice each year. They use the river as a travel corridor between Lake Pend Oreille – where they spend the winter – and tributaries of the Priest River, where they spawn.

“It’s a fairly sensitive population,” said Scott Deeds, a federal bull trout biologist. About 60 to 70 bull trout return from the tributaries to Lake Pend Oreille each year, a figure so small it raises concerns about the genetic diversity and future viability of the population, he said.

Sletegar said he’s willing to work with the agency on all items. Wildlife viewing is a significant part of the river’s attraction to many people, he said.

“That’s why we all want to be there,” he said.

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