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Sheriff denies permit for Lake Coeur d’Alene hydroplane races

Wolfinger: Organizers haven’t met requirements

The U-1 Oh Boy Oberto, driven by Steve David, left, and the U-37 Beacon Plumbing, driven by J. Michael Kelly, race during the Diamond Cup H1 Unlimited Heat 2A last summer on Lake Coeur d’Alene. (File)
The U-1 Oh Boy Oberto, driven by Steve David, left, and the U-37 Beacon Plumbing, driven by J. Michael Kelly, race during the Diamond Cup H1 Unlimited Heat 2A last summer on Lake Coeur d’Alene. (File)

The turbulent return of hydroplane racing on Lake Coeur d’Alene has met an unmovable obstacle in the path of this summer’s Diamond Cup.

Kootenai County Sheriff Ben Wolfinger gave a firm thumbs down Tuesday to a water event permit for the Labor Day races after Diamond Cup officials failed to meet a list of requirements, including insurance, service contracts and securing other permits.

Race officials immediately asked the sheriff to reconsider and give them a bit more time to meet his criteria, but Wolfinger said his decision is final.

“I don’t plan on changing my mind. Not at all,” he said.

Without a water event permit, the races cannot take place Aug. 29-31 south of Silver Beach along Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive. Diamond Cup Unlimited, which has struggled the past couple of years to revive hydroplane racing on the lake, has not yet announced the cancellation of this year’s races. Diamond Cup President Doug Miller did not answer questions Tuesday.

John Magnuson, a Coeur d’Alene attorney representing the group, said organizers could challenge Wolfinger’s decision in court but would prefer not to take that step.

“We’d rather work collaboratively with all our community members, including the sheriff,” Magnuson said.

Wolfinger said he met with Diamond Cup officials April 21 and agreed to give them a 30-day extension on obtaining a state permit also required for the races.

But all other conditions had to be met by July 1 for the sheriff’s permit to be issued, he said.

The conditions mostly are the same as he required for last year’s races and included signing contracts for emergency medical services, traffic control, transportation and crowd management; obtaining at least $1 million in insurance coverage; and submitting a safety and emergency plan.

“They assured us that they would have all the rest of this stuff done,” the sheriff said Tuesday. “And obviously it didn’t get done.”

He said his office needs time to plan for the three-day event and set work schedules with plenty of notice to employees.

“We have to draw a line in the sand,” Wolfinger said. “We set this deadline a long time ago.”

Sheriff’s office expenses, including staff overtime, are not compensated by public events such as the hydro races because the county does not have a reimbursement mechanism in place.

Magnuson said the Diamond Cup expects to obtain other state and county permits by July 10, and having those will free up race financing that will satisfy other criteria set by the sheriff.

“The deadlines need to realistically reflect factors and circumstances that are outside the control of the applicant and rest with those approving agencies,” Magnuson said.

Returning last year for the first time since 1968, the Diamond Cup lost money and still owes thousands of dollars to contractors. The debts included $22,546 to Kootenai County Fire & Rescue for fire and medical services in 2013. Magnuson said the Diamond Cup has race financing in place to pay that bill and “make adequate provision for next year,” but the financing is contingent on securing permits for this year’s races.

“Essentially you pull the chair out from under somebody through no fault of their own by saying they failed to satisfy conditions that are factually and legally impossible to satisfy by July 1,” he said. “An artificially created timeline is simply not achievable given the applicant doesn’t control” the permit processes of other agencies.

That includes an application to the Idaho Department of Lands for a three-year permit to place concrete anchors and polyester lines in the lake for the race course and spectator boat tie-up area.

The agency held a hearing on that request June 10 and will issue its decision by July 11.

Wolfinger said he earlier agreed to give the Diamond Cup until Aug. 1 to obtain the state lands permit.

The Diamond Cup also is waiting for a decision from the Board of County Commissioners on a new process for allowing special events in a suburban agriculture zone, which applies to the race’s onshore areas along East Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive. The county Planning Commission voted 3 to 1 last week to recommend approval of that change, and the Board of County Commissioners is scheduled to hear it July 10.

The races were a popular attraction on the lake in the 1950s and ’60s, although underage drinking, fights, rioting and arrests marred the races from 1961 to 1964.

Ultimately, waning enthusiasm and financial losses ended the run, with the final race held in 1968.

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