As the lake level rises and the sun emerges, property owners along Sanders Beach are hoping that authorities will behave as if the beach is private, even as its ownership status is pending in court.
The attorney for the property owners has filed a motion in 1st District Court asking that the city of Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai County enforce all laws that apply to the “use and enjoyment of private property” while the ownership of Sanders Beach remains in question.
Last October, the city and county filed suit against the property owners, the state and the Sanders Beach Preservation Association Inc. to finally determine the ordinary high-water mark for the beach and resolve the ongoing question of whether the city should enforce trespassing laws there or whether the public has free, unfettered access to the popular summertime shoreline east of Tubbs Hill.
When the city and county filed suit, they also asked for a preliminary injunction to temporarily establish the high-water mark at the height of the existing seawalls, which is 2,131 feet. That would leave most of the beach open to public use.
Most of the East Lakeshore property owners who front the beach, however, have asked that the temporary ordinary high-water mark be established at a lower level, 2,128 feet, which would make most of the beach private. The high-water mark determines the boundary between private and public land, because anything below the high-water mark is considered part of the lake bed and open to the public.
Areas that are accessible to the public without question are the 12th Street access down to the water, the 15th Street access down to the water and in front of the Jewett House east to the Coeur d’Alene Resort golf course fence.
In affidavit after affidavit, property owners complain that the Coeur d’Alene police have been of little help in curbing offensive behavior on the beach, from littering the beach with dog feces and dirty diapers to burning campfires and partying until all hours of the night.
In a July 2003 letter to property owners Pat and Gerry Frank, City Attorney Mike Gridley explained that the city cannot successfully prosecute trespassers without a definitive ruling on where the ordinary high-water mark was on July 3, 1890, the date that Idaho was admitted to the union as the 43rd state.
In one recent affidavit, attorney William Boyd said the matter was resolved in a 1987 case filed by lakeshore property owners against Washington Water Power – now called Avista Utilities – that determined the high-water mark in 1890 was 2,121 feet. The utility company operates the Post Falls Dam, which regulates the level of Lake Coeur d’Alene. The verdict in that case was vacated, however, in favor of a compromise, which left the legal slate relatively clean for the current case over Sanders Beach.
The next court hearing in the Sanders Beach case is set for 9 a.m. March 24.
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