Groups plan lawsuit over marina project
A photo of a bull trout in the Willamette National Forest. Conservation groups filed formal notice this week of their intent to sue over a proposed housing development near the mouth of Trestle Creek, saying the project would devastate the trout's spawning habitat in the area.
(Photo courtesy DAVE BICKFORD/FWPC)
A March 2021 aerial photo of the site location of the North Lake Development at the mouth of Trestle Creek.
Staff Writer | May 8, 2021 1:00 AM
SANDPOINT — Conservation groups filed formal notice this week of their intent to sue over a proposed housing development and marina project near the mouth of Trestle Creek.
Critics said approval of the Idaho Club-Lakeside housing and marina development near Trestle Creek would have a devastating impact on one of the most important bull trout spawning streams in the Pacific Northwest.
“This project prioritizes luxury developments meant for out-of-state residents over conserving one of Idaho’s most valued and threatened species,” said Kristine Akland, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, one of the groups filing notice of the planned lawsuit. “If construction moves forward as planned, bull trout and one of their most important habitats will be severely and permanently damaged.”
The suit was filed against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Army Corps of Engineers and Trestle Creek Investments for approving the development. In addition to the center, Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper and Idaho Conservation League also signed onto the notice.
The planned development calls for the construction of five single-family luxury homes, a boat ramp, two docks and 124 boat slips. It would require the excavation of an island and peninsula and would discharge thousands of tons of concrete, soil and rock into Lake Pend Oreille near the mouth of Trestle Creek.
In the seven-page notice, the three groups indicate a lawsuit should be expected within 60 days over what it says are violations of the Endangered Species Act. The groups contend the agencies and the developer failed to consider the impacts of constructing the marina and housing development on bull trout and its critical habitat, resulting in violations of the act.
The agencies failed to apply best available science to ensure the project will not "destroy or adversely modify" critical habitat of a species threatened with extinction. While agencies ruled the project was not likely to adversely impact the fish or its habitat, the groups said that is far from the case, calling the determination "arbitrary and capricious."
Bull trout were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1999. In 2010, FWS designated 18,795 miles of streams and 488,252 acres of lakes and reservoirs in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana and Nevada as critical habitat. In Washington 754 miles of marine shoreline were also designated.
Violations of the ESA include a failure to analyze Trestle Creek as an important spawning ground for bull trout and the impact of increased boat traffic on the fish and their habitat once the project is completed. The agencies also failed to provide a detailed analysis of the project's impact on the bull trout or to consider new information published since its 2009 consultation.
“This project is a threat to one of the most critical spawning streams in the Pend Oreille Basin. It's also one of the few places locally where you can take your kids and so easily see bull trout and kokanee spawning,” said Brad Smith, North Idaho director of the Idaho Conservation League. “It would be tragic to lose such a treasured resource.”
Developers contend they've done everything by the book, making sure their plans were thoroughly vetted by consultants to ensure they met requirements. In a response to an appeal to county officials by the environmental groups to reconsider the project, Idaho Club president Bill Haberman, Valiant Idaho LLC, said they obtained all the correct permits and everything is up to standard.