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Conservation groups request reconsideration of Trestle Creek Marina Project

by RACHEL SUN
Staff Writer | March 12, 2021 1:00 AM

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A group of Idaho conservationists are filing a motion with the county for the reconsideration of a marina project on Lake Pend Oreille at Trestle Creek.

Representatives from the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper, Panhandle Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Idaho Conservation League said they have concerns about the project’s impact on water quality, bull trout, which are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and other fish species such as westslope cutthroat trout and kokanee.

The plans, which include 105 boat slips at the mouth of Trestle Creek where it enters Lake Pend Oreille, would be built on what is classified as wetlands, and include 15,080 cubic yards of excavation including the removal of a peninsula and an island with an active bald eagle’s nest, wrote Steve Holt, executive director of Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper.

The motion lists environmental concerns including variances including one to double the impervious surfaces such as asphalt and roofs to 70% and reducing the rear lot line and wetland setback to zero feet. These variances, representatives for the groups worry, would lead to an increase in pollutants in stormwater runoff.

As it stands, the plans for the buildings include a 40-foot vegetative buffer between the houses and the water, which Holt said is less than many other waterfront properties.

However, said Idaho Club president Bill Haberman, Valiant Idaho LLC, the applicant for the permits, made sure their plans were “thoroughly vetted” by consultants and are up to standard.

According to the release, the applicant was granted a permit for the wetland fill in 2009, which was reissued in 2017 by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Since then, the groups say, those documents have not been available for review. A FOIA request was made by The Center for Biological Diversity and due on Feb. 23 to the ACOE. They have now received some documents from 2018, Holt said, but are still waiting for others.

“It is unclear if the USFWS was working from current data or the 2007 data from which the original permit was granted,” the groups wrote in their motion.

Haberman contended that while some permits were new and others renewed, all are up to date in their environmental and buildings standards.

“Nothing [outdated] is being grandfathered in,” he said.

The conservation groups, meanwhile, state that without the ability to review the 2017 permit, it is impossible to determine how the environmental assessment was conducted, or whether the guidelines for the 2009 permit are in line with current priorities and wildlife conditions.

“Concerned parties await a response from the Corps for FOIA requests,” Holt wrote in the press release. “These omissions should have been made available to the public as part of Valiant’s Conditional Use PUD Application and as part of the Planning Department’s impact analysis.”

The groups further noted that the marina plans include bulldozing land that is currently home to a pair of nesting bald eagles, which are protected under the Bald and Golden Eagle Protection Act. Not addressing the nest, the group argued in their motion, was a “glaring omission.”

The groups allege that although the plan was approved, it should not have been without a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for the removal of an established bald eagle nest.

However, Haberman said, the approval for the dredging and excavation of the island was provided by the ACOE, which consults with U.S. Fish and Wildlife.

One concern brought up in the groups in their motion was a plan to restore the north branch of Trestle Creek to its original confluence — which the conservationists worry would disrupt bull trout spawning.

However, Haberman said, that plan was a surviving piece of a plan from previous permits. Valiant, he said, is not planning to redirect the north fork, as it would be a significant expense.

A final concern for the conservation groups was the trip generations the county considered in the approval of the project, Holt said, which takes into account the five planned residential buildings but not the marina and structures near it.

The reason, Haberman said, is that while the five home sites are under the county’s authority, other parts of the development are not.

“We’ve done everything by the book,” Haberman said.

He added that despite the groups’ concerns, Valiant has obtained all the correct permits and that the planned development has a significantly lower environmental impact than previous proposals.

“The original use for the property was an RV park and a marina, with what would now be a non-compliant wastewater treatment center,” he said. “My predecessor had planned 80 condominiums … our plan is significantly less impactful than the previous plan or the previous use.”

Even so, the conservation groups say they want to see a more thorough examination of potential impacts to the local ecosystem before plans move forward.

“Generally, we feel like the project is just too much,” Holt said.

photo

Courtesy BONNER COUNTY BOARD OF COMISSIONERS