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Conservation alliance raises concerns over wetland development

Staff Writer | June 29, 2021 1:00 AM

The Selkirk Conservation Alliance issued a statement Monday regarding potential development of the Coolin wetlands, otherwise known as Chase Lake, by Tricore Investments LLC.

The land was awarded to Tricore in April of this year after a property dispute with John Stockton and a business partner, who, according to the release, planned to purchase and preserve the wetland following news about Tricore’s plans for a housing development.

Milton Ollerton, director of the Bonner County Planning Department, said the site’s owners submitted minor land division applications roughly a month ago to divide the land into three properties. The property is currently split zoned for recreation and rural-5, which would need to change for the Tricore’s application.

“The minor land division ordinance does not allow for the continuation of split zoned properties,” Ollerton said, “so the applicant will have to decide how to best move forward.”

Ordinance also requires that Tricore conduct a wetland delineation, which would identify building envelopes on each proposed lot. The final map is also required to show flood plain and base flood elevations, he said.

As of Monday, staff had not heard how the applicant planned to proceed, he said, and Ollerton did not know what the applicants were planning. According to a court document, Clifford Mort, the owner of Tricore, became interested in purchasing the property in 2015 after seeing “substantial development opportunities.”

Bonner County code does not specifically address wetland development, Ollerton said, though other federal laws do. As it stands, Tricore will have two years to submit their plans in full. Any development will either require delineation, or a permit by the Army Corps of Engineers.

“It can’t move forward in the shape it’s in,” Ollerton said.

Though the court ruled in favor of Tricore, SCA officials said development of those wetlands could have a major environmental impact for Idaho. The group cites the 2004 Conservation Strategy for Idaho Panhandle Peatlands report, compiled by the Idaho conservation data center.

In it, the report identifies Chase Lake as one of the Idaho peatlands with the “greatest ecological diversity,” containing all 12 of the ecological features measured in the report.

The release notes concerns over the impact filling the wetland would have to neighboring properties and Priest Lake by increasing water flow to those areas in the flood season, and potential subsequent erosion and property damage.

“The Coolin wetland is located over the Priest River Aquifer and plays a critical role in water filtration and recharge for the aquifer,” officials wrote in the release.

The development of Chase Lake, SCA officials wrote, would also require filling, ditching, draining and destruction of the wetland and result in a permanent loss of wetland flora and fauna, including endangered species.

“Wetland ecosystems are among the most biologically diverse and productive ecosystems on the planet. Wetlands provide habitat for thousands of species of aquatic and terrestrial plants and animals,” SCA wrote in their release. “[W]etland ecosystems are also among the most threatened (and quickly disappearing) ecosystems on the planet. In Idaho, wetlands make up only one to two percent of the land mass and yet they are critical for the survival of 80 to 90 percent of the state’s species.”