By Steve Holt
While Bonner County’s decision regarding changing the shoreline code has been seemingly postponed, the county’s ability to completely ignore certain environmental codes is prevalent. Boyer Slough, located just west of Kootenai Point on Lake Pend Oreille, faces numerous water quality issues, including wastewater discharge, agricultural runoff, repeated herbicide application and annual algae blooms.
Recently, the Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper office received a call alerting us about a four-acre parcel that had been completely denuded of vegetation all the way down to the shoreline, including the grading of a road within the shoreline setback. This action by the developer completely runs contrary to the purpose of Bonner County Environmental Standards, Code 7.1, which states its purpose as being, “to preserve both the quality and quantity of Bonner County water resources,” in addition to reducing erosion and sedimentation into waterways.
According to the preliminary plat application submitted to Bonner County, the developer is seeking approval of a subdivision consisting of eight single-family lots. Even though the application has not been approved, the removal of trees and vegetation — as well as extensive road grading — have taken place in preparation for residential development.
Grading, stormwater management and erosion control are all regulated activities by Bonner County Revised Code, which clearly states that it is unlawful for any person or entity to proceed to conduct any activity or initiate construction on any structure — including excavation, site preparation or leveling — without complying with the section and having the required stormwater management and grading plan (BCRC 12-720.2 (F) & 12-720.4).
It is also clear that at the time of an application for a new subdivision, the applicant shall develop a grading/stormwater management plan to be reviewed concurrently with the subdivision application, which was never done or even applied for (BCRC 12-722.1 (A)(B)).
If I cited every code that was in violation or contrary to BCRC I would use up my entire word count. However, if you’re jonesing for some reading pleasure, you might start with these: Subchapter 7.1 — Shorelines, Subchapter 7.2 — Grading, Stormwater Management and Erosion Control.
After all this, one would think that bringing awareness to the county would elicit some sort of action. I suppose we should think again. After spending a significant amount of time on the phone with the county planner, compliance officer and their superior — as well as submitting an official complaint along with other neighboring property owners — I’m sorry to say that we have gotten virtually nowhere. At one point I was actually told there was a fine line between what was occurring and a logging operation, not requiring a permit, and not much they could do.
There is a fine line: It’s the 40-foot setback and respect for the vegetative buffer. It’s working closely with developers to make sure they understand when and what they can and can’t do, before it happens. The developer also should have also been informed by the county that the preparation for the subdivision is subject to the EPA’s General Construction Permit, as it disturbs more than one acre of land adjacent to the shoreline and that needs to be applied for, as well.
With all of this one would have to ask: Why have any codes related to protecting the environment if we are not willing or capable of enforcing them? Which codes will the county be ignoring next?
While the overall water quality of Lake Pend Oreille is healthy, we all need to stay vigilant in advocating for clean water in order to prevent the degradation of our precious aquatic resources.
Several months ago, the county requested certain stakeholders to submit comments regarding what types of development within the shoreline setback and vegetative buffer that they would be comfortable adding. A number of organizations submitted comments suggesting we not only needed to hold onto the limitations that already exist, but to bolster the code and adopt a more comprehensive enforcement strategy. That seemed to have silenced the county for the moment, but I anticipate that the topic will be returning shortly.
These codes are designed to maintain water quality, reduce the potential for nutrients entering our waterways, protect fish and wildlife habitat, and preserve our drinking water sources. If we are not steadfast in our belief that water quality is important and participate in the discussion, we fear the potential loss and/or complete disregard for the few laws assisting us in the fight for clean water will simply disappear.
If you are interested in finding out additional information on this topic please feel free to contact our office at 208-597-7188 or send an email to [email protected]
Steve Holt is executive director of Lake Pend Oreille Waterkeeper.
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