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CdA environmental lawyer Scott Reed dies

UPDATED: Sun., May 3, 2015

Coeur d’Alene attorney Scott Reed. (Kathy Plonka)
Coeur d’Alene attorney Scott Reed. (Kathy Plonka)

Scott Reed, a Coeur d’Alene attorney well known for championing environmental causes, died Saturday night. He was 87.

Reed retired within the past year from a legal career that spanned nearly 60 years and placed him on the front lines of battles to protect natural areas, wildlife habitat and public access to places like Tubbs Hill and Sanders Beach.

“He made me laugh all my life,” his wife, former state Sen. Mary Lou Reed, said today. “It was always fun to be with Scott. I will miss the laughter.”

The Kootenai Environmental Alliance said on Twitter, “RIP Scott Reed. A gentle, brilliant man and a powerful, positive force for our community. A genuine hero.”

Reed’s wife served 12 years as a Democratic state senator from Coeur d’Alene and remained so active in politics that Scott Reed said he often had to set an appointment to see her for lunch.

Former Coeur d’Alene City Councilor Mike Kennedy, writing on Facebook, said “it’s hard to find the words to fully describe the positive impact” the Reeds had on him and everyone in Coeur d’Alene. “Thank you Scott. See you down the road my friend.”

In 2012 the Idaho State Bar honored Reed with its Distinguished Lawyer Award. The annual award is given to one or more attorneys who have distinguished the profession through exemplary conduct and many years of dedicated service.

“Environmental law is some of the more constant work and least paying work,” Reed said in a 2012 interview with The Spokesman-Review. “When somebody wants to stop something they come to see me. We try our best. Mostly I’m not paid much. The recession has done a hell of a lot more to stop development than I ever did.”

In 1976, he began representing residents hoping to keep Sanders Beach near downtown Coeur d’Alene open to the public. Original city leaders had laid out a street that split private, lakefront parcels. While homeowners owned the land on both sides of the street, the public had been allowed to use the beach in an uneasy partnership that ended in 2006 when homeowners won a decades-long legal battle.

The case was settled through negotiation in 2011 in an agreement with the city that allowed the homeowners to build fences, but not boat docks. The public still has use of the beach when the lake level is below the normal high-water mark.

Opposite of Reed during most of that fight was Coeur d’Alene attorney John Magnuson.

“Scott and I have been involved in I can’t even tell you how many lawsuits in the last 20-plus years,” Magnuson said in 2012. “If all my colleagues were cut from the same cloth as Scott Reed, the world would be a better place.”

Reed and his wife, along with the late Art Manley, were some of the founding members of the Friends of Tubbs Hill, which long has advocated for protecting the 165-acre natural area for public use. The forested hill sits between downtown and the lake and remains one of the area’s more popular attractions.

In 1972 the Reeds and Manley founded Kootenai Environmental Alliance, the oldest non-profit conservation organization in Idaho, which describes itself as a watchdog over the Idaho Panhandle National Forests and other federal lands.

One of the legal battles that best defined Reed came decades ago when he represented Silver Valley magnate Harry Magnuson, John Magnuson’s late father.

Harry Magnuson fought the plans to build Interstate 90 through historic downtown Wallace. He hired Reed, who won an injunction because the federal government had failed to obtain an environmental impact statement. The injunction remained in place so many years, freeway proponents finally went to Magnuson and asked him where he wanted the route.

Scott Reed earned his undergraduate degree from Princeton University and his law degree from Stanford Law School. While living in California, he was interested in the outdoors and eventually practiced water law. He moved to Coeur d’Alene and started working immediately after he passed the bar in 1956.

Scott and Mary Lou were married in 1953 and had two children.

Their son Bruce served as chief of staff for Vice President Joe Biden and an adviser to President Barack Obama. Before that, he served eight years as domestic policy adviser for former President Bill Clinton. He’s now president of the Broad Foundation, which aims to advance entrepreneurship for the public good in education, science and the arts.

Their daughter, Tara Woolpy, is a professor of biology at the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay.

In recent years he was afflicted with scoliosis, which left him hunched over. He used a walker to get around.

At Reed’s request there will not be a funeral or memorial service. “He felt he had enough awards and attention throughout his life,” his wife said.

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