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Sunday, October 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Coeur d’Alene officials may sell riverfront land to finance City Hall upgrade

Julie Dalsaso launched her kayak from Blackwell Island on Monday afternoon, using the brief paddling excursion on the Spokane River to demonstrate the value of a small piece of public waterfront.

The land where she parked her vehicle and carried her kayak down an embankment is the old U.S. Highway 95 right of way, where a bridge once crossed the river. The city of Coeur d’Alene owns the 1.83-acre parcel. But the land has been identified as “surplus,” and could be sold to help pay for a $1.65 million remodeling project at City Hall.

Dalsaso, a volunteer for the Lake Coeur d’Alene Waterkeeper program, would hate to see the property move out of public ownership. She and her husband, Pat Behm, have launched their kayaks there to paddle around Blackwell Island. The Bureau of Land operates a larger boat launch to the west, but that launch site has fees and doesn’t open until late May.

The old highway property is an overgrown tangle of trees, brush and tall grasses, with a steep descent to the water. But Dalsaso sees potential in the property.

The city’s own Master Plan for Trails and Bikeways calls for a pedestrian bridge at the site linking Blackwell Island to the North Idaho College beach, Dalsaso noted. Even if the bridge is never built, the site still provides public access to the water for kayakers and anglers, she said.

“A postage stamp for the public is better than nothing,” Dalsaso said. “Once it’s gone, we’ll never get it back.

“It’s distressing that they’re considering selling it off,” said Adrienne Cronebaugh, executive director of Kootenai Environmental Alliance, which runs the Lake Coeur d’Alene Waterkeeper program. “Any water frontage that is publicly owned should be retained or replaced or improved.”

The City Council will discuss the City Hall remodeling project and the possible sale of the Blackwell Island property at its July 19 meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. in the Library Community Room, 702 E. Front Ave. The first step in a possible sale would be annexing the property to the city. The land is currently located in unincorporated Kootenai County.

Finance Director Troy Tymesen said city staff was directed to identify surplus parcels that could be sold to help offset the cost of improving security and disability access at City Hall. Much of the 38-year-old building’s interior is open to the public, and better security is needed as part of a plan to move the criminal division back into City Hall from leased space. A new elevator and remodeled restrooms are also in the plans, which will help the city comply with current Americans with Disability Act standards.

The Blackwell Island property was one of three surplus properties identified for possible sale. The other two are the old city library and a residential property on Fruitland Lane.

Though a pedestrian bridge crossing the river to Blackwell Island has been discussed, no funding has been identified for the project, Tymesen said. If the land is sold, it’s expected to generate between $225,000 and $250,000 for the City Hall remodel, according to city estimates.

The old highway property is long and narrow, with about 150 feet of riverfront access.

“It’s an island of public property surrounded by private property,” said Matthew Hall, one of the owners of the Blackwell Island RV Resort.

His family used to own the old highway property and still retains an easement on it for access into the RV park. City officials wanted the land when the RV park was annexed into the city in 1996, Hall said.

“They had some lofty goals of putting the (pedestrian) bridge over the Spokane River,” which never came to pass, he said.

The public property’s other neighbor is the Blackwell Island Marina, which is owned by the Hagadone Corp.

Dalsaso and Behm plan to take their plea against selling the property to the upcoming City Council meeting. With a little bit of work, the site could become a well-used recreation area, they said.

In Spokane, the development of a “water trail” map by the nonprofit Spokane River Forum shows people where they can access the river without trespassing on private land. Some of the popular places to launch kayaks and canoes are a half acre in size, Dalsaso said.

Closer to home, Coeur d’Alene’s Sanders Beach is an example of a small, but cherished public recreation area, Behm said.

“This is about the same size as Sanders Beach,” he said. “It’s easy to sell off waterfront access, but once it’s gone, you won’t get it back.”

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