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Sunday, February 23, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Vote on divisive Wolf Lodge Bay project delayed after packed meeting

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 11, 2019

North Idaho Maritime is moving forward with a plan develop this area of Wolf Lodge Bay for use as a staging area for docks and dock-building equipment. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
North Idaho Maritime is moving forward with a plan develop this area of Wolf Lodge Bay for use as a staging area for docks and dock-building equipment. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

A decision on a divisive commercial project on Lake Coeur d’Alene’s Wolf Lodge Bay will have to wait until January, after some 170 people attended a Wednesday night meeting on the proposal, more were turned away at the door and some 60 people were still waiting to offer their comments at the end of a three-hour meeting.

The Kootenai Board of County Commissioners was expected to vote on whether to approve an application from John Condon, one of Spokane Mayor David Condon’s brothers, to rezone a half-acre shoreline parcel north of state Highway 97.

The change would allow Condon, who owns North Idaho Maritime, to use the land as a loading and unloading point for dock building materials and equipment. In filed plans, the project could include the construction of a bulkhead, pier or dock and a small building for employee breaks.

Kootenai County’s hearing examiner has approved the zone change, after stipulating certain requirements be met, but some residents have vocally opposed the project.

That opposition was on display Wednesday. After county officials gave a presentation on the project and the proposed zoning change, Rand Wichman, a planner Condon hired to design the project, got up to speak. His introduction led one audience member to call him a “hired gun” and another to pretend to vomit into a trashcan.

Wichman did his best to rebut some of standing concerns, including questions about the project’s potential effects on the lake environment and Highway 97 traffic. A biologist spoke on behalf of Condon’s company and said the new dock-building facility wouldn’t damage kokanee spawning beds or disrupt the annual migration of bald eagles.

But when the meeting opened for public comment, those concerns persisted.

Amy Anderson, the environmental programs director for the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, brought up concerns about the county land-use code, the health of the lake, the potential impact on lead in the lake bottom’s sediment and increased traffic on the narrow, two-lane highway accessing the site.

Citing what she said was Idaho Transportation Department data, Anderson noted there were 29 accidents between 1998 and 2018 on a 1 1/2-mile stretch of Highway 97 that encompasses the project area.

“The whole scope of the project needs to be explained,” Anderson said.

But IDT has granted North Idaho Maritime a commercial approach permit for the project. The permit stipulates that traffic must turn right, whether entering or exiting the site. Exiting vehicles would have to drive about a half-mile to the Bureau of Land Management boat launch to turn around and return to Interstate 90.

As of Wednesday, the BLM had not received an application to use the boat launch parking area as a commercial turn around, said BLM spokesperson Suzanne Endsley in an email. Those parking areas are heavily used by the public and “routine use of either site as a turn-around point is not likely to fit in the primary purpose of the sites,” she said.

Stanley Harrison, who said he lives near the project site, brought a scale model he made with a 3D printer to show the highway, the site and potential traffic issues. Like many others, he said the project would endanger drivers and the environment and would sacrifice the beauty of Wolf Lodge Bay.

Not everyone who spoke was against the project.

Ron Nilson, chief executive officer of the Post Falls-based mine-equipment company Groundforce, said the project would meet the demand for new docks on the lake.

“The U.S. is the greatest country in the world,” Nilson said. “And we build stuff, we make stuff.”

Condon also defended the project during the comment period, arguing the site was the only one suitable for his company’s needs and noting that the work it would do would be for not only private individuals but also government agencies.

Some project elements are not yet clear. Any building on the site will have to go through the county’s permitting and review process, said Vlad Finkel, the county planner. Any construction done above the ordinary high-water mark will be overseen by the county, and anything below falls under Idaho Department of Lands.

After Wednesday’s meeting, Condon acknowledged the force of the public opposition but defended the project on its merits.

“If I believed half of the information put out here, I’d be opposed to it myself,” Condon said. “We win on the facts, and we lose on the emotions.”

The county commissioners will hold two more meetings on the proposed zoning change at 2 and 6 p.m. Jan. 2 in the Kootenai County Administration Building. After the second meeting, commissioners will likely deliberate and vote.

If they decide to approve the zone change, the matter will move forward. But if they decide to overturn the hearing examiner’s approval of the project and do not approve the change, the commissioners will have to schedule another public meeting and vote on it at that time.

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