To build a new port for luxury yachts, the Hagadone Corporation is back with a controversial plan to dig up tons of contaminated soils along the uppermost reach of the Spokane River.
This coming Saturday (May 16th) Julie Dalsaso plans to lead a small armada of kayaks and other paddlecraft into the mouth of the Blackwell Island marina. Her purpose is pretty straightforward. With help from the Kootenai Environmental Alliance, Dalsaso wants to give interested citizen/paddlers an up close view of the basin where a subsidiary of the Hagadone Corporation wants to exhume 121,000 cubic yards of sediments (enough to bury a football field to a depth of nearly 60 feet) to make room in the marina for more and bigger boats.
The scale of the operation isn’t the only thing that troubles the long-time outdoorswoman and activist. Much of the material to be excavated (an estimated 15,200 to 26,000 cubic yards) is contaminated with heavy metals from mining wastes that have flowed into the lake from the Silver Valley mining district to the east. Moreover, the marina’s basin is the only access point from Lake Coeur d’Alene to a beautiful little channel, the Blackwell Island canal, that flows gently through a wooded area for most of a mile before emptying into the Spokane River. It’s an ideal spot for family outings and paddling because the canal is sheltered from the current of the river and the winds that can cause choppy conditions on the lake.
In Dalsaso’s eyes, the environmental degradation and public health risks from the large-scale operation could be profound and it bothers her that local media examination of the project isn’t independent. This is because Coeur d’Alene endures its own version of the public-anxiety inducing conflict of interest that so often gives Spokane citizens fits of anger and frustration. Whereas the Cowles family is both the Spokane’s major developer and newspaper publisher, in Coeur d’Alene Duane Hagadone is both publisher and developer and has been at least as active as the Cowles family in putting his vision into concrete, glass, and frontage.
“There has to be a different voice other than the Coeur d’Alene Press,” she says when asked why she’s stepped forward to raise questions about the marina project. “The public needs to be involved.”
As an example, she reads from a recent Coeur d’Alene press article about the environmental and health risks presented by the contaminated soils to be removed. The article reported that “the hearing notice acknowledges that the soil contains metal concentrations in excess of the limits allowable for fish, wildlife, and aquatic habitat.”
“It’s hard to get the applicant (Hagadone) to address the public health concerns,” she says. “Notice they talk about ‘fish, wildlife and aquatic habitat,’ but some people swim down here at the BLM recreation area [along the canal] and because there’s no motorized boat access through here, it’s perfect for canoes and picnicking families.”
Hagadone purchased the Blackwell Island Marina in 2004 and his first effort to redevelop the site was thwarted in July 2005. Then the Idaho Department of Lands denied a request to dredge the basin were thwarted because the company did not, in the agency’s view, provide adequate information about the potential dangers to water quality and habitat.
Now the project is back, in somewhat of a different form, the major change being that an inflatable coffer dam and pumps would be used to remove water from the basin during excavation periods. According to the permit application, the excavation would be done over a six year period, but only during the fall months.
The excavation of the contaminated soils is the most oft-cited concern. In filings with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, at least two alternatives for disposing of the contaminated soils are described. One would have the most contaminated material being shipped to an undisclosed off-site repository. The other option would be to use two on-site “management units” involving the use of asphalt caps to try to prevent erosion of the contaminated soils. The unit with the highest contamination levels would also have a liner, but the unit for the moderate contaminated soils would not.
However, the project descriptions included in the public hearing notices distributed by both the Corps and the Idaho Department of Lands are silent on the off-site option and focuses, instead, on the on-site burial proposal.
The Kootenai Environmental Alliance shares Dalsaso’s concerns about the soils, especially given the well-documented history of high water flooding Blackwell Island.
“We would like more detail on the liner and the cap [for the contaminated material], says Julie VanMiddlesworth, an consulting environmental scientist for KEA. “We would like to see the institutional controls on the affected land. If the material is capped with asphalt, it would need to be monitored in a manner that would not allow the material to be dispersed.”
Another issue that concerns Dalsaso and KEA is the precedent that would be set by allowing deep excavation of the submerged, contaminated soils at Blackwell Island.
“Hagadone is not the only property owner on Lake Coeur d’Alene who would want a deep water marina,” says VanMiddlesworth.
The Center for Justice’s lead water lawyer, Rick Eichstaedt concurs.
“The Lake Management Plan does not call for dredging of the lake bottom because it’s thought that leaving the contaminated soils in place is a safer management solution,” says Eichstaedt. “So this proposal sets a negative precedent. We don’t have a plan for dealing with dredging like this in the lake.”
Eichstaedt says he’s also concerned about the possibly precarious connection between the lake, the river, and the underlying Spokane Valley/Rathdrum Prairie aquifer which is only eighty feet beneath the surface in the area where the excavation would occur.
Dalsaso says she’s committed to pursuing her questions and concerns which, she readily admits, include social concerns about the privatization of a once public area that, she says, still includes a public right of way and a city plan to one day connect the island with a foot bridge from near the North Idaho Community College campus immediately to the east.
“It’s a reasonable thing to have a win-win,” she says, if the developer is willing to allow some public access to the marina and reconfigure the design of the expansion to address public safety and environmental concerns.
The public hearing on the Marina Yach Club, LLC proposal is scheduled for June 4th in the Sundance Room at the Idaho Department of Lands ofifce, 3780 Industrial Avenue South, in Coeur d’Alene. For those who want to participate in Julie Dalsaso’s paddling tour on Saturday May 16th, contact the Kootenai Environmental Alliance here. Or phone at (208) 667-9093, or email the Alliance at email@example.com.