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News >  Idaho

Public can use Sanders Beach pending trial

Avery, left, and Zoe Gephart wait outside the Kootenai County Courthouse Thursday where their mother, Cathy Gephart, was supporting a request to keep Sanders Beach open to the public. 
 (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Avery, left, and Zoe Gephart wait outside the Kootenai County Courthouse Thursday where their mother, Cathy Gephart, was supporting a request to keep Sanders Beach open to the public. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Sanders Beach is open to the public, at least for this summer.

Retired Judge James Judd ruled Thursday to allow the public to use the beach between 12th and 15th streets until a final decision is made about who owns the popular Coeur d’Alene beach. Judd said he expects a trial this fall.

Until then, sunbathers, swimmers and those just wanting to stroll along the shore have use of the beach from below the seawalls on the south side of East Lakeshore Drive.

But there will be rules. Judd instructed the city’s attorney to work with the lawyers representing the homeowners to work on specifics for hours of use, maintenance and patrol by local law enforcement officers. It will work similarly to the stretch of public beach in front of the homes on West Lakeshore Drive, near City Park.

This temporary ruling gives Coeur d’Alene the clear authority to enforce city laws such as trespass, open container and leash laws for dogs.

Until now the city has declined to enforce these laws because it was unclear whether the beach was public or private. This stance has infuriated the dozen property owners who claim that people abuse the beach by leaving trash, using foul language and partying all night.

The result has been heated conflicts between homeowners and beach users – confrontations that city officials feared would turn violent this summer if nothing was done.

That’s why Coeur d’Alene and Kootenai County filed the lawsuit that asks a judge to once and for all determine the legal high-water mark on Sanders Beach. The high-water mark shows where private land ends and where publicly owned beach begins, which would determine whether the beach is public or private.

No court has ever made an exact determination.

The lawsuit names the Sanders Beach homeowners between 12th and 15th streets, the Sanders Beach Preservation Association that advocates for public use and the Idaho Department of Lands – parties that have stakes in the location of the high-water mark.

Some people, including the state Land Board, presume that 2,128 feet is the high-water mark. Other folks, such as Sanders Beach Preservation Association members, say the high-water mark is 10 feet higher.

Judd ruled in favor of the city, county, preservation association and homeowner Greg Crimp, who is the brother of Coeur d’Alene Mayor Sandi Bloem. Bloem has no financial interest in the Crimp property. The group advocated that the court maintain the status quo, which they said was allowing the public to use Sanders Beach until a final ruling is made.

The other homeowners wanted Judd to rule in favor of private property rights, meaning that the beach is private all the way to the water’s edge. The summer lake level is normally 2,128 feet.

Judd, who was selected by the state Supreme Court to hear the case, said he was reluctant to make any temporary ruling because it wouldn’t solve the problem. Yet he said it was impossible to go to trial and reach a conclusion by the time the summer swim season starts.

The homeowners were disappointed with Judd’s ruling and questioned whether it will really help decrease the summertime problems.

“The city hasn’t shown us anything this far that would give us any faith,” attorney John Magnuson said after court adjourned.

Judd said he expects the city to “do a stellar job” enforcing the laws and keeping the beach clean and maintained. If problems arise, Judd said he can modify the order and find a solution that works.

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