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Hearing rescheduled for Camp Bay footpath

Staff Writer | November 13, 2022 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — A hearing to determine the extent of the public’s interest of M3’s revised road vacation proposal has been rescheduled for Dec. 19.

The hearing was rescheduled from Nov. 22 due to inadequate noticing by the county.

M3 officials are hoping the proposed footpath from a gate that would be built a half-mile west of the bay will be a sufficient enough of a tradeoff for the Bonner County commissioners to find that the road vacation is, in fact, in the public interest.

The footpath does not lead to a public beach at Camp Bay, but instead would reroute recreational traffic southeast of the proposed gated community.

This latest remand back to the county follows over a year of legal jockeying by the Arizona-based developer to acquire the last 2,550 feet of Camp Bay Road.

M3’s Bill Brownlee first petitioned the county in 2021 to vacate the last half mile of the road for a private subdivision. County commissioners initially approved the application, agreeing with the company’s claim it would benefit the public.

The court sent the matter back to the commissioners, but the scope of the hearing was limited to just the public interest impact of the path for the revised plan.

The hearing, which has been ordered by the Bonner County District Court, “will focus solely on the proposed walking path and its impact on the public interest in the proposed vacation,” county officials said in a notice about the hearing.

The hearing will now be held at 9 a.m. Monday, Dec. 19 in the first floor conference room of the Bonner County Administration Building, 1500 U.S. 2, Sandpoint.

The commission unanimously voted in favor of giving the road to M3 in April 2021. The commissioners said the vacation met the “public interest” standard for giving away public property, since the county would no longer need to plow half a mile of dirt road and since M3 promised to put in a turn-around location.

The controversial decision prompted huge public outcry and prompted a Sagle couple, Fred and Jennifer Arn, to file suit over the decision.

That decision was vacated by Judge Cynthia Meyer in November 2021, ruling the county’s decision was “arbitrary and capricious” and remanding the decision back to the commissioners.

In February, commissioners denied the Arizona developer’s application – and kicked the ball back to the court. In doing so, commissioners said they were unable to determine if Camp Bay Road does, in fact, provide legal access to Lake Pend Oreille.

The court hearing, originally set for early July, was delayed for a month in the hopes negotiations between the Arns and Bill Brownlee of M3 would result in a settlement. However, talks fell through and a hearing was held in August..

At the August court hearing, M3 officials introduced a revised proposal which included a footpath to a separate area of the beach. While this does not change the ongoing efforts to determine the terminus point of the road, the inclusion of the footpath could affect the public interest debate.

In her ruling, Meyer said the proposed footpath “is not additional evidence/information that is material to determine the issue presented” before the court.

Since the court was tasked with determining if Camp Bay Road provides public access to the lake, M3’s revised development plans were not pertinent evidence to the court.

However, since the proposed footpath may influence the “public interest” determination by the county, the evidence could be presented to the county.

In a brief filed by the Arns, the couple questioned whether the evidence was relevant to the court proceedings. They also outlined several conditions for the remand, namely, that the public notice of the hearing must specify the scope of the hearing. Meyer agreed.

The legal determination of the end of the road is still in question, as the court has not yet ruled on whether or not the century-old road provides lawful access to Lake Pend Oreille, which hinges upon the road’s original design touching the original high water mark, pre-Albeni Falls Dam. As of writing, no new court hearings have been scheduled for the civil case.