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Possible Wolf Lodge Bay development has some worrying about Kokanee salmon, bald eagles and traffic

This photograph was taken on Tuesday from the Blue Bird viewing area above Wolf Lodge Bay. That area of the shoreline could be developed by North Idaho Maritime to be used as a staging area for docks and dock building equipment. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
This photograph was taken on Tuesday from the Blue Bird viewing area above Wolf Lodge Bay. That area of the shoreline could be developed by North Idaho Maritime to be used as a staging area for docks and dock building equipment. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Neighbors and an Idaho environmental group are concerned that a proposed development on Wolf Lodge Bay could damage kokanee spawning beds, hurt the annual bald eagle migration and cause traffic problems.

The would-be developer says the project will have a negligible impact on the bay.

The piece of property in question, 0.5 acres of shoreline just north of state Highway 97, is owned by John Condon, one of Spokane Mayor David Condon’s brothers. Condon has applied to rezone the half acre, which is part of a larger 108-acre parcel, from a restricted residential designation to a commercial one.

The Kootenai County hearing examiner will consider the case Thursday. The examiner will then make a recommendation to the Kootenai Board of County Commissioners, who could vote on the zone change within a month.

Condon, who owns North Idaho Maritime, would like to use the land as a loading and unloading point for dock building materials and equipment. Finding a suitable place to load and unload material has become more difficult as logging and other commercial marinas around the lake have closed or been turned into developments, said Rand Wichman, a planner hired by Condon.

Most recently, Condon was using a site on the Spokane River at the old Stimson Mill. New owners closed the access road, Wichman said.

“We have to have a place to do it,” Wichman said. “It’s a necessary service. John has been working on the issue for years to try and find a suitable location.”

The Wolf Lodge Bay parcel, owned by the John and Gaila Condon Living Trust, is not ideal because the low-water level means Condon won’t have year-round access. But, “it’s not bad,” Wichman said.

If the zone change is approved, Condon would likely have a pier or dock built. Barges and other craft could dock there and be loaded with supplies brought in by truck. It’s possible, Wichman said, that a small building could be built for employees to take breaks in.

Wichman estimates that commercial traffic would average about two truck trips per day. During the winter, when the water is mostly too low to navigate, no work would occur.

“It’s not like it’s going to support the next McDonald’s,” he said.

Still, some worry that the commercial activity will hurt kokanee salmon, which spawn in the gravel beds of the bay. There are also concerns about increased commercial traffic on Highway 97, a narrow and winding two-lane road that hugs the edge of the lake.

Janie Fink, a biologist and the founder of Birds of Prey Northwest, worries that commercial activity in the shallow bay will increase the water turbidity, burying kokanee spawning beds. Fink hopes to build a raptor education center on the bay.

“Wolf Lodge Creek and the shoreline around it is the area that the kokanee salmon actually spawn,” she said. “It’s a shallow bay. It’s been a long-term spawning grounds for the kokanee.”

Although there are other commercial operations in the bay, Fink points out that they are recreational in nature. She believes commercial activity could also disturb the bald eagles that flock to the bay in the winter in search of kokanee.

“I just want to be a spokesperson for the eagles and kokanee, which don’t have much of a voice,” she said.

A number of individuals and organizations filed comments protesting the zone change in advance of Thursday’s meeting. If the examiner approves the change, the public will have another chance to comment in advance of the commissioners’ vote.

The Kootenai Environmental Alliance objected to the proposal, noting concerns about kokanee spawning, traffic, eagles and the depth of the bay, which they worried can’t accommodate “heavy barges without disturbing the shoreline.”

In an interview, Dennis Brueggemann, a volunteer with the organization, said they would hold off on commenting further until they “heard both sides” Thursday.

“It’s a situation that isn’t well-publicized and those kinds of meetings really make us nervous,” Brueggemann said.

The Idaho Department of Fish and Game neither supported nor opposed the zone change. But in a letter, Chip Corsi, regional supervisor for IDFG, said the proposed development area is not within the area that kokanee spawn.

He noted, however, that the fish do spawn nearby.

“Thus, it would be hoped that any development proposed with a zone change would be capable of protecting existing water quality in Wolf Lodge Bay,” he wrote in a letter to the county.

As for any impact on bald eagles: “It would be speculative at this point to suggest a positive or negative effect from development of the site.”

Corsi said in an email, “Since the current request is only for a zone change, and not a specific project with design, etc., (it’s) difficult to assess things in more detail.”

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

Vlad Finkel, the county planner handling the case, said traffic safety is the issue that concerns him the most.

At Thursday’s hearing, he expects Condon and Wichman to explain how commercial trucks will be able to enter and exit safely.

As for any concern about the development expanding in scope and size beyond North Idaho Maritime’s initial plans, Finkel said the geography and topography of the half acre prevents substantial development.

“There would be very limited space that the applicant could physically construct something,” he said.

Wichman, the planner working for Condon, said they suggested the right-only permit to ITD. He pointed out that eagle watchers stopping on the narrow road already pose a traffic hazard.

“I think with greater presence at the site the traffic safety situation improves,” he said. “Because there is greater control and better signage.”

Some neighbors believe the zone change needs more scrutiny.

Stanley Harrison is a fifth-generation Idahoan and grew up next to the land purchased by Condon. In a letter sent to the county, he urged the hearing examiner and the commissioners to not approve the zone change as designed. He brought up a litany of concerns, ranging from environmental impacts to the promotion of more commercial activity on the bay.

“I know the questions I have make common sense and really should be answered before this zoning is approved,” he wrote. “Not only for me and my family and neighbors, but also for all the Kootenai County residents and visitors that want to preserve this little piece of paradise we have on the east of end of our lake.”

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